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The Independent Critic

Billy Crystal, Bette Midler, Marisa Tomei, Tom Everett Scott, Joshua Rush, Kyle Harrison Breitkopf, Bailee Madison
Andy Fickman
Babaloo Mandel, Lowell Ganz, Billy Crystal, Joe Syracuse, Lisa Addario
Rated PG
104 Mins.
20th Century Fox
commentary with Crystal and director Andy Fickman, deleted scenes. Also, on Blu-ray: gag reel and "In Character With Billy Crystal, Bette Midler, Marisa Tomei" featurette.

 "Parental Guidance" a Warm and Fuzzy Holiday Flick 
Parental Guidance is one of THOSE holiday flicks, a formulaic and incredibly safe film designed to be a destination film for holiday sentimentalists and their movie-seeking families. There's not an ounce of originality in the film, but co-leads Billy Crystal and Bette Midler are such winning pros at just this type of thing that you barely notice if you're willing to just surrender yourself to it.

In other words, most film critics will trash Parental Guidance while a good majority of those who venture into the film will find it exactly what they expected and were hoping for when they bought their tickets.

Artie (Billy Crystal) and Diane (Bette Midler) are Fresno-based empty-nesters whose only daughter Alice (Marisa Tomei) is now married to Phil (Tom Everett Scott) and living pretty darn far away in Atlanta with three kids that include the classic overachiever (Bailee Madison), a bullied stutterer (Joshua Rush) and the youngest (Kyle Harrison Breitkopf) whose imaginary friend maintains a fairly dominant presence.

When Alice unexpected calls her parents to see if they'll come out and watch the kids for a week, it is both unexpected and perhaps undesirable. As one might expect from this type of film, there's some obvious tension between Alice and her parents and it's probably not a coincidence that she's chosen to live thousands of miles away. It's also not a coincidence that Alice raises her children in a way that's decidedly different from the parenting techniques that she experienced as a child, especially those practiced by her largely absent father, a lifelong announcer for the minor league Fresno Grizzlies whose lifelong dream of announcing in the big leagues has never been fulfilled.

If you find yourself to be a fan of pretty much anyone in this cast, then there's a pretty good chance that you'll at least enjoy this film even if you'll likely forget most of it within hours of leaving the movie theater. The performances here are more congenial than memorable, with Crystal serving up his usual rapid fire witticisms, Midler her usual wisecracks and Tomei her chaotic yet adorable charm.

The kids? They're the kids you usually find in a film such as this one. Bailee Madison, in particular, makes the most of her character with a performance that is both charming and high strung. Madison is one of those young actresses who may have a chance to rise above the "child star" label with winning performances already in films such as Brothers, Conviction, Phoebe in Wonderland and quite a few others.

It's probably not a surprise that much of the heart and humor to be found in Parental Guidance is derived from the inevitable generational differences that exist and how they are, of course, to be overcome by film's end. Director Andy Fickman, who has made a career out of films like this including The Game Plan and Race to Witch Mountain, may not journey through any new cinematic ground but he does do a nice job of coaxing comfortable and winning performances out of his cast and, on more than one occasion, surprising us with scenes that are rather sweet and endearing.

During a movie season marked largely by an abundance of potential award nominees and winners, Parental Guidance has a place as a simple family film that should prove appealing to multi-generation families looking for a film the whole family will enjoy this holiday season.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic