There is a message in Parental Guidance, although what it is depends on your viewpoint. If you are a parent and try raising your kids strictly, chance are you’re doing it wrong. Let them play in mud, skip practice, and kill off their imaginary friends. If you are one of the kids, go nuts. Obsess over cake, ransack the X-Games, and get into schoolyard fights. And finally, if you happen to be a grandparent, fight for a place on the mantle over the fireplace, kicking out those “other” grandparents. That’ll show ’em.
Parental Guidance is a bit of an oddity, marketed as a tender film about parents raising their kids, and then trailers shoved onto the likes of Nickelodeon showcased it as a, “Kids run amok” film. Billy Crystal stars as Artie, a terminated Minor League sportscaster, sucked into a week with the grand kids at the whim of his wife (Bette Midler) who carries resentment for the other side of the family.
Cue the modern gluten and sugar free lifestyle of Alice (Marissa Tomei) and Phil (Tom Everett Scott), clashing with the older ideals of parenting. This is reality television at its most forced, merely scripted and dumped onto the screen. The rambunctious kids do their worst, each in a specific age group to run the gamut of challenges. Also, the set-up allows for multiple levels of antics, like peeing on pro-skater Tony Hawk.
Despite being well-adjusted in general, the kids are victims of the workaholic parents routine, the type that can set off any family-driven feature. On the phone and doubling up by making breakfast, Alice & Phil decide they need a vacation break. Shocking to few, clingy Alice remains at home until she is forcibly removed from the homestead. Alice fears her children might eat cake or play out in the yard, canned traits, and two sides of the parenting coin are so far removed, it is implausible to consider these people related.
Billy Crystal’s methodology is let the kids roam free, the panicked Midler too worried about being a stifling status symbol to let things continue. Parental Guidance handles a few one-liners of merit, peaks its head in for a few urine jokes, and moves on to the expected warring conflict from individual styles.
The takeaway it turns out is that no one raises their kids right because in the end, there is no guide. Salvageable as a message, and unfortunately, buried between the predictable outcomes, slim plot threads, and Billy Crystal playing generic Billy Crystal. That, and the rest of the chaotic mayhem that feels overcooked.
It is rare to be presented with a new release this messy in its presentation, choked by noise and rundown by smoothing. It is easy to assume a film-based grain structure has run wild and the encoding is inadequate. But no, Parental Guidance is from the lens of the Panavision Genesis. Not only is this image oppressively digital, it never feels natural.
You can pick a choose from the myriad of possible problems. Noise and compression merely mark phase one of this failure. Aliasing and shimmering? Absolutely, across all of the wide cityscapes used for transition. Ringing? It becomes a huge factor, set off as an aside to the filtering that is wildly employed without any logical reason. All of the actors become a victim. Faltering fine detail? Why of course, as medium shots are devoid of notable sharpness, and some are destroyed by noise.
Parental Guidance works only in close, although even that is an general inconsistency. Crystal’s close-ups are usually up to par, although that assumes no smearing or digital gloss impedes. The film opens on false hope, beautifully sharp views of a ballpark and tight camerawork on Crystal in the broadcast booth. It is a shame so few moments will match the depth for the next 90-minutes.
Any tweaks to color timing have been subtle, flesh tones pure and primaries bright. Black levels are exceptional as well, deep and rich with no fading. The few times the visuals come together as one, Parental Guidance is a winner. Those moments are so few, as it cannot be considered anything other than an inexcusably messy loser.
It would be nice to praise this DTS-HD mix for scattering screaming kids around the soundfield, panning around baseball stadiums, or rocking out to music. Except, it does none of that. In fact, there is a single moment of separation outside of the center channel, a violin solo with only 10-minutes left in the movie that tracks into the right stereo on a camera pan. That is the highlight.
Sure, the audio is fine, problem free, and exhibiting no direct concerns in terms of fidelity. That all comes expected when dealing with new releases. Modern mixing equipment should bring even a sliver of life to a feature, even one as quaint as this. Exteriors are dead, parks hosting little league games are dry, and interiors sound equal to the outdoors. How incredibly small this is.
Billy Crystal and director Andy Fickman pop onto the disc to offer thoughts on a commentary, Fickman breaking off to to chat about 13-minutes of deleted scenes as well. A bulky gag reel extends to 13-minutes because it can, certainly one of the longest ones on the format. A Fox Movie Channel promo and trailers will suit up to run the disc aground.
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