Friday, January 18, 2013

PG up ends modern parenting

I wasn’t expecting much more than a light comedy to kill an afternoon at the cineplex. It’s a light comedy alright. But what’s great about Parental Guidance (Andy Fickman) starring Billy Crystal (who co-produced it) and Bette Midler, is how subversive it is to the whole notion of modern parenting. The movie is actually a send up of pretty much all things modern – from child self esteem to healthy foods to recycling to fake egalitarianism. Crystal (Artie) and Midler (Diane) are grandparents who get the call to come babysit their daughter’s three kids for a week. They are the “other” not-so-loved grandparents because of Artie’s warped sense of humour, basically not the greatest role model for the oh-so-delicate children. Artie is an old school baseball announcer. He’s pretty much an old school everything. When he and Diane fly into Atlanta to take care of the three youngins, Artie keeps stepping in it over and over and over again. He tries – he really tries – to put his best foot forward. But he can’t help it when he sees the bubble in which parents Alice (Marisa Tomei) and Phil (Tom Everett Scott) are raising Harper, Turner and Barker. He accompanies one child to a self expression class where the only self expression is through movement and no talk, and does a great send-up of mimes. He and Diane go to a Chinese restaurant only to discover its healthy pan-Asian food (no MSG) – to which Artie says what’s the fun in that. The kids seem allergic to playing outdoors and when he introduces the old kick the can game the first thing out of their mouths is the can should be recycled. The best bit is when Artie accompanies Turner to a little league game and Turner throws out a bully at the bat in three straight pitches. Artie jumps up and down for joy. Only to observe that the kid is still at bat. Because, the umpire politely explains, kids keep batting until their hit. There are no outs and all games end in a tie - to protect the precious ones' self esteem of course. Artie can’t believe it and gives a lecture about how baseball is the game of life. Without victory and defeat there is no sense of accomplishment and real self esteem. Parental Guidance challenges so many current clichés about modern child rearing and contemporary attitudes generally it’s almost surprising it made it out of the can, this being liberal Hollywood and all. Crystal is always great to see and Midler isn’t bad either. But the real bonus in this movie is the social commentary.

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