If Billy Crystal had played this movie as Miracle Max then we might have been on to something.
I honestly don't have all that much to say about Parental Guidance. The whole movie felt dated, as if it's been sitting on a shelf somewhere for a good decade or so. Perhaps it did sit on a shelf for a while, as it's so forgettable that I nearly forgot I watched this last week. It's not an insulting or offensive film, but it totally wastes the comedic talents of Crystal and Bette Midler. They are both better than this.
The weird thing is, much like The Guilt Trip, you might go into the movie thinking the parents are the bad guys, but it becomes clear very early on that they are the only sane ones in the film. Their daughter Alice (Marisa Tomei) and her husband need to take a trip for a work event, but are reluctant to call Artie and Diane (Crystal and Midler) to watch their kids. Diane has issues with her parents, but it's never really clear what they are, other than she disapproves of their 'old school' parenting methods. You know, crazy things like telling them 'no' or punishing them for bad behavior.
For a moment, you think the movie might be a strike against this new age, ineffectual parenting that has bred a generation of soft, neurotic kids that have entitlement issues and too much self esteem. There's even a point in the movie where they attend a little league game where no outs are recorded and there's no score, so nobody's feelings are hurt. They attend classes and therapy sessions where the instructors are either overbearing or don't actually work on the issue they are actually there for. The movie doesn't have any teeth about, and it misses the opportunity to actually say something.
This missed opportunity wouldn't have been so bad if the movie was actually funny. Everything about it is so tame and there's nothing witty about it. I guess it's a little ironic that a movie named Parental Guidance doesn't actually require any. With a PG-rated movie it's not like I was expecting edgy humor, but Lisa Addario and Joe Syracuse's script desperately needed some punch-up. What made my viewing experience so painful was that I was sitting in front of someone that thought nearly every line of the film was funny. Even casual lines of dialog that were not meant at all to be funny would still generate a laugh from this person. I know this isn't the fault of the movie, but imagine my annoyance level rising with someone laughing in my ear at things that aren't funny. That's really the audience of the movie, people that either laugh at everything or enjoy really light, toothless comedies.
One of the reasons why the movie felt dated was it had a theme about a family bonding over baseball. Artie's job is a broadcaster for a minor league team, so there are lots of callbacks to old baseball games, references to playing catch, actually playing catch, and then there's Artie's reaction to the aforementioned little league game. Billy Crystal is a huge baseball fan, so I almost wonder if he agreed to do this movie if they'd throw more baseball stuff in the movie. I did actually enjoy the parts where he playing broadcaster though. If Crystal hadn't gone into acting, you can see how his calling would have been to become a baseball broadcaster.
Another part of the movie the really bugged me was that Alice's husband Phil (Tom Everett Scott) is getting some award for this home automation technology he's developed. However, when you see it in action, it's just not something that exists yet, unless Phil has a Tony Stark level of intelligence and financial resources. When I see something like this in a movie, I usually assume that the director of the film isn't actually all that in touch with current technology. Then, I see this was directed by Andy Fickman, who directed the inane You Again, a movie that started by showing you a YouTube video created several years before it existed and taken with a camera that also didn't exist yet. When you couple the lack of realism with regards to technology with characters that don't act like normal people (true in both these films), you have a lazy movie that just doesn't care.
I will give the film credit for having a few Star Wars references, which I always appreciate, so there's that at least.
Parental Guidance is a safe, run-of-the-mill family comedy that doesn't have a single joke or idea you haven't seen in a ton of other films before. It wastes a good cast with material that's better suited for the ABC Family channel. You could take both your grandparents and kids to this movie, but I think your grandparents will like it more.
1.5 (out of 5) Death Stars