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Billy Crystal (left), as Artie and Bette Midler as Diane, who agree to babysit their three grandkids in a scene from the film, ‘Parental Guidance.’
‘Guidance’ unites Crystal, Midler Fickman’s new movie tolerable if uninspired

LOS ANGELES, Dec 26, (AP): After nearly 30 years of friendship and shared tastes in movies, music and comedy, Billy Crystal and Bette Midler have finally taken it to the next level: They did a film together. The two veteran entertainers first met on the comedy circuit, but never actually worked together until “Parental Guidance,” in theaters Christmas Day. “He says we met in the ’60s at the Improv, and of course I don’t remember any of that because I was going so fast,” Midler said in a recent interview. Crystal and Midler share the screen for the first time in the family film, playing a married couple who bumble their way along to bonding with their grandchildren. Marisa Tomei stars as their Type-A daughter, who regrets having to entrust her three kids to “the other grandparents” during a business trip with her husband when her in-laws aren’t available. The idea for the movie came from Crystal’s real-life experience caring for his own granddaughters, now ages 6 and 9. He and wife Janice were confounded by the “pages and pages” of rules their daughter left behind. (That daughter, actress Jennifer Crystal Foley, plays a small role in the film.)

Connected
“We had them for six days all alone, and on the seventh day I rested,” said Crystal, 64. “And I came into the office and started writing the story of grandparents who have to babysit for their kids while they go away.”
Midler found the script just as she was looking for a family-film project, and she immediately connected with the humor and warmth of the story. “I wanted to do something that everybody could come and see, because that’s what I grew up with,” she said.
“It came at a really good point in our lives and our careers to finally find each other and be able to share the responsibilities for the movie together and our scenes,” Crystal said. “She’s an old pro, in the best of ways. Take out old, she’s a pro. And very giving, very funny, and very willing to try anything.”
Except sing. Crystal said the Oscar-nominated and Tony-winning star was reluctant to perform a sweet song-and-dance number with him in the film. “The only time I ever had to wrestle her was on singing the song. She didn’t want to do it,” he said. “(She said,) ‘No, then they’ll say Bette Midler is singing a song.’ And I say, ‘No, we won’t sing great. We’ll sing good, but we’ll sing like parents, and we’ll sing together.’”

Their rendition of the Monotones’ 1958 doo-wop classic “The Book of Love” is among the film’s highlights.
“They kind of talked me into it, and I’m glad that we did it. It worked out,” said Midler, 67. “It’s wonderful music and maybe people will go look up the Monotones and see how fabulous they are.”
Crystal, also a producer of the film, said he uses movies and performing as a means of working through significant chapters of his life. The film “City Slickers” was about him turning 40. His one-man show, “700 Sundays,” is about losing his parents.
“And then this one is about grandparenting,” he said. “I shudder to think what the next one’s about.”
(Actually, he already knows: He’s working on a yet-untitled book of essays — “a man’s approach to aging” — due out in October.)
Midler, who described herself as “just a player for hire” on “Parental Guidance,” said she admires Crystal’s sensibilities, and it was fun to finally work with her friend.
“I like to see people at their peak, people doing their best work and really working hard and bringing things to fruition. It’s just fantastic,” she said. “It’s a hopeful picture, and I like that about him. I like the fact that he has that mentality. So to watch him in action is really a lot of fun.”

The schmaltz is piled on thick, and if the comedy were any broader it would require an Imax screen, but still there’s something touching about how hard Billy Crystal and Bette Midler hustle to peddle the threadbare material that makes “Parental Guidance” a perfectly tolerable, if uninspired, moviegoing experience.
As “the other grandparents” who are given a golden opportunity to bond with their seldom-seen grandchildren, Billy and Bette work double-time, well aware that it’s not just the juvenile characters they have to entertain, but also the paying audiences who could count on both of them for a good laugh back in the day.
That they manage to pull their weight even when the achingly formulaic plotting threatens to drag them under is a testament to their “let’s-put-on-a-show” spirit. The end result should appeal to audiences, including bonding grandparents and grandkids, looking for a little undemanding holiday cheer.
Crystal is Artie Decker, who has just lost his longtime gig as “De Voice of the Fresno Grizzlies” when the minor-league baseball team decided to upgrade the outfit with the sort of talent that knows its way around a Facebook page or a Twitter account.

Already despondent, he’s not exactly jumping up and down over the news that he and his wife Diane (Midler) have been recruited to babysit their daughter Alice’s (Marisa Tomei) three kids when she and her tech-geek husband Phil (Tom Everett Scott) get a last-minute opportunity to have some out-of-town alone time.
As expected, uptight Alice’s no-sugar-allowed helicopter parenting clashes mightily with Artie and Diane’s old-school approach to child-rearing, not to mention the fact that Phil has programmed his smart home to be intuitive within an inch of its inhabitants’ lives. Also as expected are the resulting gags built around technologically challenged Artie. Fortunately, old pro Crystal comes armed with an arsenal of rim-shot-ready rejoinders that hit the mark more than they miss.


While his character has been given more of an emotional arc than Midler’s (unsurprising, since the genesis of “Parental Guidance” came from a newly minted grandparenting experience in producer Crystal’s life), it’s still nice to see Midler strutting her stuff in her first onscreen comedy role in years.
And Tomei is always a welcome presence, even when she’s saddled with what’s essentially a one-note character for most of the film.
It would have been nice if director Andy Fickman (“Race to Witch Mountain”) and husband-and-wife screenwriters Lisa Addario and Joe Syracuse (“Surf’s Up”) could have mined some fresher stuff from this frequently played ballgame, but at least when you’ve got Crystal calling the shots, you can still count on the occasional change-up.
“Parental Guidance,” a 20th Century Fox release, is rated PG for some rude humor. 104 minutes.

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