I took my brother to the movies today. Normally, that would lead to another Marxist film review. But because of a scheduling conflict, we were forced to miss Jack Reacher and instead see Parental Guidance. Actually, this is my kind of movie: I really like sentimental comedies. And it was okay—pretty much exactly what you expect of a film like that.
The plot is typical: little known family member comes to babysit. Hilarity ensues. And it ends with everyone learning deep lessons about acceptance and forgiveness and the importance of the shot heard ’round the world. The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!
Two things struck me about the film. The first comes out of my generally mediocre opinion of Billy Crystal. Note: mediocre, not bad. But he is impressive in this film. He has more onscreen charisma than the rest of the cast combined. Without him, the film would be hopeless. And that leads us the second thing that struck me.
Don’t people rewrite scripts anymore?! The first act and even the beginning of the second act are fairly strong. Or at least, strong for this kind of very predicable family fare. But then it wanders off in a sort of dramatic random walk. There is a subplot where Artie (Crystal) is trying to get a new job. It has almost nothing to do with the main plot and it is never resolved. The main plot is no more robust, except that it does manage to provide compelling but much too hasty resolutions. Above all, from the second act on, the film has no dramatic momentum. Nothing pulls the viewer through the film except the thought of another scene with Crystal.
And yet, the film is fairly amusing. It is touching. It has some genuinely moving moments. In other words, it is a typical professionally produced Hollywood film. It just goes to show that if you shove enough talent at a production, you can make it work well enough. But they spent $25 million dollars on this film. They could have divided up that money 50 times, given it to independent filmmakers, and ended up with at least 25 films that were more enjoyable.
There are three kids in the film, each with a problem. The youngest is Barker who seems okay to me except that he has an imaginary kangaroo. It is run over by a car. In my experience, imaginary friends fade away. Sudden, violent death probably doesn’t bode well for Barker’s teen years.
The middle child is Turner. He stutters. Somehow he overcomes this by memorizing a speech. Speech therapists are really amazing. Stuttering is not something you get over by becoming and actor. Just ask any actor who stutters, such as Austin Pendleton.
Harper is the oldest. She is too focused on achievement. She is trying to get into a music school with her violin playing. Twelve year olds of any ability whatsoever play the violin very well. So well, in fact, that most listeners could not differentiate them from Itzhak Perlman. Harper plays the violin about as well as I do. And I don’t play the violin. She is probably the least developed character in a movie of stereotypes.