Sunday, December 30, 2012

Parental Guidance [2012]

MPAA (PG)  CNS/USCCB (A-I)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB review

Parental Guidance (directed by Andy Fickman, screenplay by Lisa Addario and Joe Syracuse) is a generally very funny, well-written and well-acted family-oriented comedy.  Stars Billy Crystal and Bette Midler, who play the grandparents Arty and Diane Decker to their daughter Alice Simmons's (played by Marisa Tomei) children Harper (played by Bailey Madison), Turner (played by Joshua Rush) and Barker (played by Kyle Harrison Breitkopf), were excellent as was the cast in general. 

I will lodge my oft-repeated complaint that the film was probably overly/needlessly "white."  There was only one black character in the entire film (a police officer who had maybe 2-3 lines) and no Hispanic at all.  Present was a genial though somewhat stereotyped "china-man," Mr Cheng (played by Gette Watanabe) the owner of a somewhat "updated" (Glutin/MSG-free...) Chinese restaurant, who had rather significant if somewhat "minstrel showy" role.  And one of the chief villains in this film still came from the "Cold War shelf" in the form of "Chernobyl red" haired violin instructor "Dr. Schveer" (played by Rhoda Griffis) featuring a Slavic accent that would make Boris Badenov [IMDb] and Natasha of the 1950s-60s era Bullwinkle cartoon proud ... All the "real" characters were, of course ... white.

In their defense, they were funny.  Again, Billy Crystal and Bette Midler have been _among the best_ actors/comedians in our country of a generation.  Aging (as do we all...) they continue to "step-up" and nail their performances.  But entire demographics (half the kids under 17 in the United States are no longer white) were not represented in the film.  And the problem with this did actually play itself out in the theater (in an African American neighborhood in Chicago) where I saw the film.  The film was funny, the audience (almost entirely African American) did laugh and repeatedly throughout the film.  But the theater was 2/3-3/4 empty even though I saw the film at 7:30 PM on a Friday night.  Django next door was packed to the rafters ... One wonders how hard it would have been to write-in a Hispanic, African American or even Filipino family "living next door" ...

All that having been said ... the film was nice and touched gently if also pointedly on family issues that many/most contemporary American families could relate to: Arty and Diane Decker (played by Billy Crystal and Bette Midler respectively) are grandparents living in Fresno, California, who rarely see their grandchildren because of a hurtful / unresolved issue that they've had with their only daughter Alice (played by Marisa Tomei): During Alice's childhood the family had been dominated Arty's "chasing his dream" of becoming a big league baseball radio announcer, "the voice" of the (San Francisco) Giants.

Indeed, the film begins with Arty, now in his 60s, being "let-go" as radio by the minor-league Fresno Grizzlies because, well, he was now ... "too old and out of touch with contemporary realities" in the broadcasting business, having among other things no idea of what Twitter or Facebook were. "I can tweet or even howl if you want to ..." he begs his boss who tells him that he's done.  So much for a dream never realized, one that had required a lot of moving and traveling through various smaller towns and cities all across America, moves that impacted not only him, but also his wife (who didn't mind much) and daughter (who apparently did).

Moving on to the daughter:  When Alice had grown-up, she married and set down roots with her husband Phil (played by Tom Everett Scott) in Atlanta, Georgia (clear across the country ...) and Arty / Diane rarely got to see them.  When in the set-up for the rest of the movie, Alice and Phil are forced to ask Arty and Diane to come over from Fresno to look after their kids for a week while the two take advantage of an opportunity offered by Phil's work to "finally get away, just the two of them" (and Phil's parents were unable to help this time), upon coming to Alice and Phil's home, Diane immediately notices that on the shelf over their fireplace were countless pictures of Alice and Phil and the kids AND PHIL'S PARENTS doing all sorts of stuff and only ONE picture hidden in the back of Arty, Diane and Alice.

Seeing this display and horrified by it, Diane says to Arty: "Arty, you know what we are?  We're 'the other grandparents.'  Our own grandkids have the grandparents that they know, like and do things with (Phil's parents).  And we are 'the other grandparents,' that they put-up with because they don't know us and thus can't like us ... THIS IS OUR CHANCE TO NOT HAVE TO BE "the other grandparents."  And thus the rest of the movie plays out ... and much, often very funny, ensues.

Now remember this is, thankfully, a Hollywood movie ;-).  So while the underlying problem/conflict is identified, the film proceeds gently/kindly to produce a reconciliation (a Happy Ending ;-).  Alice could have been portrayed as being far more bitter and angry than she was portrayed in the film.  And Arty, could have been portrayed as being far more clueless and selfish-to-the-end than he was portrayed.   But if the film-makers chose to do that, this film would not have been nearly as happy / nice as it turned out to be.

So the result is a very, very nice movie (far kinder/gentler than it could have been ...) but also one that invites both parents and adult children (with their own families now) "with eyes to see and ears to hear..." to take the opportunity to reflect on the way things were at home "before" and to seek then an honest (and merciful...) reconciliation.  Over all then, honestly a very good job.  I just wish for the film's own sake that it would not have remained "so white" ...

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