Christmas is one of the busiest movie-going days of the year. But the trick for many families is trying to pick a film that will entertain youngsters, parents and grandparents alike. Here's a clue: "Django Unchained" isn't it.
This year's best bet is "Parental Guidance." This holiday offering -- partially filmed in Fresno -- won't get Oscar buzz, but it's a family friendly film with just the right blend of slapstick comedy and light emotional moments to make it suitable for young and old.
Billy Crystal plays Artie Decker, the veteran voice of the Fresno Grizzlies. After a life-changing moment, Decker and his wife, Diane (Bette Midler), head to Atlanta to baby-sit their three grandchildren -- Harper (Bailee Madison), Turner (Joshua Rush) and Barker (Kyle Harrison Breitkopf) -- while their parents (Marisa Tomei, Tom Everett Scott) are away at an awards ceremony for a week.
The humor comes from the clash of parenting styles. The children have been raised in a world where they're asked to "consider the consequences" instead of being told no. And junk food is prohibited.
Whether it's the result of that parenting style or not, the children have personal problems. Harper is socially inept because she spends all her time practicing the violin. Turner stutters, and Barker has an imaginary friend. Artie and Diane try to help the children while figuring out their own misfirings as grandparents.
Movies like this often make the children smarter than the adults, a kind of humor that wears thin quickly. This screenplay by Lisa Addario and Joe Syracuse allows the youngsters to be smart and individualistic, without making them too adult. That's why its easy to care about them as each one deals with their problems.
You'll like these kids, especially Bailee Madison. She rebounds from a subpar performance in Adam Sandler's "Just Go with It." It's now obvious -- after her sweet performance in "Parental Guidance" -- that the script for "Just Go With It" was the real culprit.
Crystal and Midler have such a nice chemistry that it's easy to believe their characters have been together for decades. Both have good solo moments, but they really are at their best when they are on screen together. This is the first time they've worked together, but it should definitely not be the last.
There are a few scenes where the slapstick comedy goes on too long. And Scott has little to do. Those aren't big enough problems to keep you from taking the family to see "Parental Guidance."
"Parental Guidance," rated PG for rude humor. Stars Billy Crystal, Bette Midler, Marisa Tomei, Tom Everett Scott, Bailee Madison. Directed by Andy Fickman. Running time: 105 minutes. Grade: B
"Les Misérables" also opens today in theaters. A movie review from Bee critic Rick Bentley and an essay from Bee arts reporter Donald Munro appeared in Friday's 7 section. You can find them at fresnobee.com/ moviereviews/
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.