It is an odd way to start, but the most annoying thing about "Parental Guidance", the new film written by and starring Billy Crystal and co-starring Bette Midler, Marisa Tomei and Tom Everett Scott, is the constant piano trilling present in almost every scene. Crystal and Midler play Tomei's parents and are asked, at the last minute, to watch the grand kids so Tomei and Scott can go to a company conference for a little R & R. Everytime the characters approach a moment which could generate some emotion, the trills of piano keys broadcast the filmmaker's intent, serving the same purpose as a laugh track. It is a constant and annoying thing on a film. It’s barely tolerable to have a laugh track in a television show.
When you pay $6 (or $13 – Dear God, no) to see a film, do you want to feel like you are watching a television show? I would think not. Why spend the money, time and effort to watch something that could be free?
But this also points to the bigger problem with "Guidance". The entire film is episodic; a series of set-ups designed to each deliver one joke. This might work, could work, I suppose, if anything in the film were interesting, unusual or surprising. But nothing in this film is the least bit fresh or interesting. From the moment we first meet all of the characters, you can pretty much chart the entire course of the film. And each set-up plays out in the most predictable fashion you could imagine.
Crystal clearly had a collection of jokes he wanted to use and came up with a story to showcase them. Unfortunately, the jokes simply aren't funny and it becomes a chore to sit through the set-ups.
It is nice to see Midler on the big-screen again, but the entire film has a cable-movie feel and this doesn't do Midler any favors. The filmmakers have included two opportunities for Midler to do a little song and dance, but in each, she is partnered with another cast member and these moments do little to showcase her talents. In her moment with Tomei, who plays her daughter, she almost has to yank her into position and Tomei looks extremely uncomfortable for the brief soft shoe. I realize this is how her character is supposed to feel, but you get the sense these emotions are coming through from the actress and the whole moment is just painful for her. Later, she does a little song and dance with Crystal who can't really keep up. If you saw your actual grandparents shuffling around and singing, you would overlook how poorly they were singing and dancing and might watch with loving admiration. But in "Guidance" or any film, you need to see a certain level of professionalism and that doesn't exist here. It is simply painful to watch Midler singing badly, in what should be the highlight of her role.
Tomei and Scott play the Type-A parents of three children, all of whom have problems. Their parenting style and the problems of the children are all so clichéd you might expect there to be a book out there listing all of these moments. If it exists, the filmmakers most likely copied the book verbatim.
"Parental Guidance" is a film that might appeal to the youngest members of your family. But even they shouldn't be subjected to this film. No one should be subjected to this film.
A couple of days after I saw this, I overheard an older woman telling someone one her cell phone she was taking the grand-kids to see “Guidance”. Therein lies the reason this film was made; it is unchallenging pabulum made to appeal to the masses. The less discerning masses, but the masses nonetheless. If you only kids to see unchallenging, unimaginative films, this is all they will learn to appreciate. If you expose kids to more interesting fare, say a Studio Ghibli film, they might learn to appreciate better films. If better films make more money, more will be made. And films like “Parental Guidance” will only clutter up the airwaves of basic cable.