Film review: ‘Parental Guidance’ Provides Pleasant Predictability

PARENTAL GUIDANCE 1Like many reviewers I generally don’t compliment a film by calling it “predictable.” In the case of Parental Guidance I’m making an exception.

Why? Well, perhaps it’s just generosity spurred by the holiday season. Perhaps it’s nice to see a film that doesn’t vex the mind with the thought that our post-9/11 world is filled with more dangers than we previously cared to acknowledge.

PARENTAL GUIDANCE 2It might be that I’ve usually enjoyed Billy Crystal and always loved Bette Midler on the big screen. Maybe it’s because after watching this film with my family I didn’t feel I’d inadvertently exposed my 13-year-old daughter to inappropriately adult material, or finally it might be a combination of all the things I’ve mentioned.

Whew! Whatever the reason(s), I enjoyed Parental Guidance despite its cheerful stick-to-formula resolve. Of course, film history is full of instances where audience members have embraced the familiar, so predictability is hardly an automatic sin.

PARENTAL GUIDANCE 3Director Andy Fickman (You Again, Race to Witch Mountain, The Game Plan) already knows his way around the kind of family-friendly script Lisa Addario and Joe Syracuse have provided. And with actors like Crystal, Midler, Marisa Tomei and Tom Everett Scott he’s got a cast that for the most part deftly handles the material.

Longtime minor-league baseball announcer Artie Decker (Crystal) has just been fired from his job after management decides it’s time for a 21st Century upgrade (“I’ll tweet! I’ll make whatever noise you want!” Decker says in one of the first of a zillion zingers thrown our way by Crystal). His patience-of-a-saint wife Diane (Midler) is clearly ready for her hubby to focus more on personal than professional matters, though, and when their daughter Alice (Tomei) and her husband Phil (Scott) ask them to supervise the grandkids while they go to a conference she quickly and enthusiastically says yes.

PARENTAL GUIDANCE 4The helicopter-parenting Alice – who lives with her family in an Atlanta home that’s largely run by computer thanks to Phil’s design – really doesn’t want to let her old-school folks look after Harper, Turner and Barker. Twelve-year-old Harper (Bailee Madison) is stressing over a music audition instead of having a healthy social life; eight-year-old Turner (Joshua Rush) has a stammer and plays in a little league where competition is a dirty word; and five-year-old Barker (Kyle Harrison Breitkopf) is a mischief-maker with an imaginary kangaroo friend.

After she reluctantly departs Artie’s approach to adult oversight causes problems and Alice is quickly back on the scene. The generational clash provides some humor, but it also leads to a better understanding between the Deckers, their daughter and their grandchildren.

PARENTAL GUIDANCE 5Crystal can overwhelm a movie with his shtick, but that is ultimately avoided here because Midler, Tomei and others in the cast more than hold their own. And even Crystal tones down the silly stuff when appropriate, such as when Artie aids Turner in his fight to overcome a stammer. There’s engaging support from the children used in this film and character actors like Rhoda Griffis (playing a music teacher from Hell) and Gedde Watanabe (a “Pan-Asian” restaurateur) that keeps the movie from becoming unbalanced by Crystal’s strong presence.

There is plenty of hokiness – togetherness from a kick-the-can game? – but of course strong sentimentality is part of the deal when you go to a film like Parental Guidance. And at Christmastime, or frankly anytime for that matter, what’s so awful about that?


Parental Guidance ( opens today (Dec. 25) in wide release nationally. For locations and show times in the greater Nashville area check the websites of Regal Cinemas (, Carmike Cinemas ( and Malco Theatres ( Rated PG for some rude humor, 105 min. Directed by Andy Fickman; written by Lisa Addario and Joe Syracuse. Starring Billy Crystal, Bette Midler, Marisa Tomei, Tom Everett Scott, Bailee Madison, Joshua Rush, Kyle Harrison Breitkopf, Mavrick Moreno, Madison Lintz, Gedde Watanabe, Jennifer Crystal Foley, Rhoda Griffis and Tony Hawk.

PARENTAL GUIDANCE 6*Photos by Phil Caruso courtesy 20th Century Fox.

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About Evans Donnell

Evans Donnell is the chief theater, film and opera critic as well as co-founder of ArtsNash. He wrote reviews and features about theater, opera and classical music for The Tennessean from 2002 to 2011. He was the theater, film and opera critic for from 2011 to 2012. Donnell has also contributed to The Sondheim Review, Back Stage, The City Paper (Nashville), the Nashville Banner, The (Bowling Green, Ky.) Daily News and several other publications since beginning his professional journalism career in 1985 with The Lebanon (Tenn.) Democrat. He was selected as a fellow for the 2004 National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, and for National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) arts journalism institutes for theater and musical theater at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism in 2006 and classical music and opera at the Columbia University School of Journalism in 2009. He has also been an actor (member of Actors Equity Association and SAG-AFTRA), founding and running AthensSouth Theatre from 1996 to 2001 and appearing in Milos Forman's "The People vs Larry Flynt" among other credits. Donnell is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (