It sounds like a double feature from hell.
Billy Crystal, Bette Midler, and Barbra Streisand starring in two movies with similar plot lines: Older Jewish parents have a hard time connecting with the younger generation.
Both films are aimed squarely at a mainstream crowd, and are being released within days of each other.
Should you see them as a double feature, is one of them enough, or should you skip them both altogether?
Here are my reviews.
Turn out the lights, Alice
Parental Guidance is a movie for people of a certain age who don’t like movies. That is, people who think they’re too violent, too loud, too long, too serious … too “current.”
Crystal and Midler star as Artie and Diane, who are called into duty to look after their grandkids, and have problems with the modern-day facacta parenting style their daughter and her husband (Marisa Tomei and Tom Everett Scott) use.
Artie, a minor-league-baseball announcer, has been forced into retirement because, well, he’s old, and the old-fashioned ways of doing things just aren’t hip and cool anymore — which kind of makes this movie like the (attempted) comedic version of Trouble with the Curve and Skyfall.
I’ll save you a few bucks, and the annoyance of having to sit through Crystal and Midler mugging for the camera, acting like they don’t understand technology, and basically overacting their way through this lame film: Artie and Diane’s old ways of parenting win out over the newer ones. Surprise!
Insulting, stupid, and featuring a predictably cheesy score by Marc Shaiman that hits all kinds of treacly notes when it wants to wring a little emotion from the audience, Parental Guidance is a complete waste of time and talent. I haven’t felt this embarrassed for an actor (in this case, Crystal) since Meryl Streep in Hope Springs.
Skip this movie. Even when it’s on TV and there’s nothing else on.
On the road
Much better, surprisingly, is The Guilt Trip, in which Andy (Seth Rogen), an unsuccessful inventor, invites his overbearing, Gap-obsessed mother Joyce (Streisand) to join him on a cross-country road trip.
Joyce could have been a character full of clichés — which is not to say there aren’t any — but instead she’s one that comes from a place of authenticity, and is not, apparently, the result of interference from big-studio know-nothings. Much credit for that goes to the screenplay by Dan Fogelman (the great Crazy Stupid Love) and of course, Streisand, who gives the best on-screen Jewish mother performance since Meryl Streep’s in Prime. I laughed a lot because I know people just like this woman. Heck, one of them raised me.
Jokes aside, it’s nice to see a film treat a mother-son relationship as more than just a wacky mismatch. Andy and Joyce’s lives both haven’t gone as planned, and both are dealing with disappointment they don’t want to admit — to themselves and each other. There are some sweet scenes where son and mother see sides of the other they never wanted to see (or never thought existed), and a lot of heart throughout. If you don’t laugh at everything, you’ll at least be smiling.
That Andy learns by trip’s end that maybe mother really does know best, and Joyce learns she doesn’t have to interfere as much in her son’s life, is predictable. But when the realizations happen, they’re not done in oversized cheeseball fashion.
The Guilt Trip gets a little episodic at times, and some situations strain credulity, but Rogen and Streisand have a warm chemistry that’ll make you kvell, and that make this a film a trip worth taking. For no other reason, see it for the scene where Joyce eats an entire 4.5-pound steak, just so she can get it for free. Streisand wouldn’t travel to shoot this movie (no joke), but she’d play a character who does that?
The inevitable crossover
While watching Parental Guidance, I started to wonder why Midler hadn’t yet made a movie with Ari Graynor (For a Good Time, Call…). And then Graynor popped up in a brief cameo in The Guilt Trip, making these films even more cosmically connected.
Who knows if a Midler-Graynor film — naturally, one about a brassy mother and her irrepressible daughter, a couple of showbiz hams — will ever get made, or if it will be any good (probably not). But while we wait for that one, we have these two films of mixed quality.
Parental Guidance gets a C–. The Guilt Trip gets a B.
Will you be seeing either of these movies? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.