When I was a kid movies were made about stick-in-the-mud old people who couldn’t grasp the sensibilities of the new generation. In Parental Guidance that new generation has gained membership in the half-century club and now must deal with their stick-in-the-mud adult children who are busily tied to cell phones while feeding tofu hotdogs and soymilk to the grandkids. But what happens when the parents need to leave for a few days and turn over the reins of family life to grandma and grandpa? A movie script is born…
Artie and Diane Decker (Billy Crystal and Bette Midler) seldom see their three grandchildren, so when their only child Alice (Marisa Tomei) requests an extended child-sitting favor so she can accompany her husband (Tom Everett Scott) on a business trip, grandma can’t say no. Grandpa, on the other hand, is dealing with a sudden job loss and would rather be down in the dumps on his own sofa. Conceding to his wife’s determination to care for the little ones he slaps a smile on his face and heads to Atlanta.
Raised in a home where words like “no”, “don’t”, and “stop” are banned and political correctness is embraced, Artie’s gift of a trio of water guns is unwelcome by his daughter, who shun violent toys, even though it elicit sequels of delight from the youngsters. Soon even Grandpa regrets the choice after one of the little darlings showers his pants, leaving him with a wet crotch. And in short order other personality traits are revealed that are sure to tax the sitters. 12-year-old Harper (Bailee Madison) is an over-achiever wrestling with a newfound desire to have a social life, Turner (Joshua Rush) is dealing with a bullying issue that aggravates his stuttering speech disorder and little Barker (Harrison Breitkopf) quickly learns that blackmailing Grandpa can be a profitable activity.
This couple-of-fish-out-of-water premise holds all the usual hijinks one might expect, including the kids’ first introduction to high sugar foods when Fartie (grandpa’s new nickname, heard repeatedly throughout the script) brings home a giant ice cream cake as one of many bribes to keep the boys quiet about a previous indiscretions. And that leads to the biggest concern in this script—our senior protagonist constantly lies and yet he, with some help from Grandma Diane, eventually becomes the source of wisdom that ultimately drives the story to its happy ending.
Other concerns for family viewers include potty humor—quite literally. In one scene Artie needs to sing a song in a pubic restroom to encourage Barker’s reluctant bowels to get moving. And the little tyke also urinates at a skateboard competition, creating a surface too slippery for even the famous Tony Hawk. Meanwhile Grandma encourages the uptight Harper to let her hair down, party and discover her sex appeal.
Happily amongst these fibs, follies and food fights (that’s why he bought such a big ice cream cake) there are truly funny moments, especially with Billy Crystal’s comic delivery and the chemistry he shares with Bette Midler. As well, it is nice to see a movie that puts grandparents in a position of being helpful and (somewhat) knowledgeable. It’s just unfortunate that this production from Walden Media, a company dedicated to creating stories that (according to their website) “...capture the imagination, rekindle curiosity, and demonstrate the rewards of virtue,” doesn’t offer families some stronger reasons to seek Parental Guidance.