Plugged In is all about parental guidance. Hollywood typically isn't. So we were pretty curious about what would happen onscreen in this Billy Crystal-Bette Midler comedy.
Different generations parent differently. That's the crux of the conflict in Parental Guidance, a sweet, funny story about what happens when old-school Grandpa and Grandma show up to take care of three coddled-and-sheltered kiddos so that new-school mom and dad can head out of town.
Alice and Phil are the epitome of the contradiction that is parenting in the 21st century. On one hand, they're so engrossed in their never-ending, boundary-blurring jobs (he's a high-tech inventor, she's a website designer for ESPN) that they argue over who needs to put down the smartphone to tend to their three children's basic needs—like, say, making them breakfast.
But that list of basic needs is longer than it's ever been. It includes making sure 12-year-old Harper gets violin practice done so she can ace an audition to get into a prestigious prep school that will qualify her for Julliard which is the launching pad for a spot in the Berlin Philharmonic. It includes taking middle child Turner, an oft-bullied stutterer, to speech therapy, where he's not actually required to speak, lest the demand inflict more damage on his psyche. And it includes making conversation with Carl, an invisible kangaroo who is the companion of Barker, a wild, willful terror who never goes anywhere without Carl—and woe to anyone who acts as if the kangaroo isn't there.
And then there are the restrictions. No sugar. No MSG. No dairy. No gluten. No real eggs in the kids' "eggless" salad sandwiches. No real meat in their "soysages." No outs or keeping score at Pee Wee baseball (lest anyone feel bad). No hot dogs at the games (lest anyone get cancer). No coloring inside the lines (lest anyone's imagination be impaired). No raising of voices when angry.
For Alice and Phil, then, parenting represents an endlessly demanding task, lest their precious flowers experience any damage, any disappointment, any discouragement that might prevent them from reaching full, magnificent bloom.
That's not how Alice herself was raised, of course. No, Alice's parents—the other grandparents, the ones who are only called in when utterly, absolutely necessary, and probably not even then—raised her a bit … differently.
Artie Decker is the longtime announcer for the Fresno Grizzlies, a minor league baseball team. For 35 years, his career took him this way and that, with wife Diane and Alice always in tow, always playing second fiddle to Dad's vocational dreams. As for Diane, well, she lands somewhere between "free spirit" and "loose cannon" on the discipline spectrum.
But when Phil gets unexpectedly invited to a conference where he might receive an award for his high-tech "R Life" smart-house invention, Artie and Diane are the only ones who can take care of the kids on short notice.
What was that about parental guidance, again?
Alice and Phil want the best for their children. So do their grandparents. The rub? These two pairs of adults have vastly different ideas of what that looks like.
Alice and Phil's approach majors in eliminating risk and tending to their children's every need. That, however, has resulted in three very demanding kiddos who always have to have things exactly their way.
Artie and Diane, in contrast, prize a more fluid, free-form life experience. And that results in chaos occasionally.
Lessons can be learned by watching both approaches.
At first their grandparents prove disorienting to the kids. But we see them begin to adapt, even having a few breakthrough moments, such as experiencing the joy of playing a messy, old-fashioned game of Kick the Can.
Alice is deeply fearful of her parents undermining the work she and Phil have done. And, truth be told, she has some reason to feel that way. But in the end she realizes that her parents' influence has been a positive one. Along the way, she and her father also (in a poignant way) mend years of damage that his self-absorbed ways have unintentionally inflicted. And she comes to grip with the reality that her overwrought approach to everything in her children's lives might not be the best way to do things after all.
For his part, Artie is forced to do some growing and stretching too. Diane confronts her husband about his selfishness, and Artie admits that he's made some mistakes. Those admissions pave the way for a renewal of his relationship with Alice.
Diane also encourages her daughter to spend as much time working on her marriage as she does tending to her children.
We see Phil and Alice in bed. (She's wearing conservative pajamas bottoms and a spaghetti strap top.) They flirt and kiss. And it's suggested that "romance" is on the menu when these two overworked parents have a chance to get away. Diane later tells her daughter it doesn't matter that her bag was on another flight because, "I don't think [Phil] wants you in clothes."
Diane wears some cleavage-baring outfits. She brags about how she used to wear tight dresses to get jobs as a TV weather woman. When Alice wants to get Harper a conservative dress for her violin audition, Grandma picks out a sleeveless cocktail number instead. Diane pushes the tweenage Harper further into her budding relationship with a boy, helping her get dressed in a slinky getup and putting on makeup to go to a party at his house.
When Artie talks about licking his wounds after being fired, Diane suggestively says, "I'll lick your wounds." Trying to get Barker out of his car seat, Artie jokes, "This is harder than one of your grandma's bras." He says of a skateboarding move called the melon grab, "My cousin got arrested for melon grabbing on the subway." At a Fresno Grizzlies game, we see two couples kiss. Speaking about the Facebook practice of "poking," a man tells Artie, "I wouldn't want to poke you."
Diane and several of her friends do a pole dancing exercise routine.
Artie counsels Turner to confront a bully named Ivan. He does, and the result is black eyes for both boys. (Their fight isn't shown.) Ivan also hits Artie in the crotch with a baseball bat. The pain causes Grandpa to vomit on the boy. Artie falls about six feet to the floor from an auditorium balcony. Playing Kick the Can, Artie accidently clocks Diane in the face, giving her a bloody nose.
Barker's imaginary kangaroo Carl eventually runs away into a street and gets hit by a car. Barker narrates what he sees at the imaginary scene of the accident, saying the animal's head has been cut off.
Crude or Profane Language
One to three uses each of "freaking" and "gosh." Disparaging comments include "stupid." Grandpa tells his grandkids they can call him Artie, and Barker responds, "Can I call you Fartie?" The name sticks.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Phil and Alice are shown drinking beer and wine on vacation. After a confrontation between Alice and Harper, Mom is shown with a glass of wine. A hard morning getting kids to school prompts Artie to say, "It's 9:00 a.m. I need a martini."
Diane not-so-helpfully tells her granddaughter that one night she got "bombed" before a big TV audition. Harper responds, "So you're saying I should drink?"
Newsreel footage of an old baseball game shows a man smoking a cigar.
Other Negative Elements
Artie lies to his wife. And no matter what you might think about Alice and Phil's rules, there's no excuse for her parents to defy them so flagrantly.
In a misguided attempt to connect with Turner, Artie decides to watch the horror movie Saw with him (despite the film's content warning—which we see as well—alluding to strong graphic violence, nudity and language). They don't watch much before turning it off with shocked expressions on their faces. Grandpa repeatedly pays Barker cash to get him to do what he wants him to do (such as not wearing high heels).
One goofy gag revolves around a water pistol, Artie's pants and Diane trying to dry his crotch area. Artie refuses to take Barker to the bathroom during an X Games announcing audition. The boy then urinates (we see the stream) on the skateboarding half pipe, causing skating legend Tony Hawk to wipe out. Another bathroom snicker has Artie singing to Barker in a public restroom. Apparently it's the only way the boy can overcome his constipation. And so the song begins, "Come out, come out, Mr. Doodoo," and goes on from there. The joke amps up a notch when other men in the restroom can't see Artie's feet and wonder what's happening. There's talk about toilet paper preferences and a scene in which Artie runs out of the paper.
At a Grizzlies game, Artie comments meanly about a man's choice of bride as images of the pair getting engaged flash across the big screen. He treats Turner's speech therapist rudely. Diane does the same to Harper's demanding violin teacher.
While being patted down at an airport, Artie tells a TSA agent, "What are you looking for, sailor? I'll help you out." Then he turns his head and coughs.
Plugged In knows a thing or two about parental guidance. Our publication actually started out with that phrase as its moniker. So it was with some anticipation that I settled in to watch what Hollywood might do with the concept. Turns out, Walden Media's Parental Guidance delivers a story that pulls off sweet and sentimental without being cloying or annoying. Billy Crystal and Bette Midler are believable and (mostly) likeable as grandparents who split the difference between reckless zaniness and old-fashioned horse sense when it comes to raising kids.
But given that title, it seems especially appropriate for me to point out content that parents might want to be aware of, such as a fairly long list of mild toilet humor gags, endless repetitions of Fartie, and some sly sexual innuendo. Not so sly are the pole dancing exercises and Grandpa showing Saw to a kid.
Thankfully, it's a negative-elements list that's certainly much shorter than what I'd have to compile while watching virtually any sitcom on primetime TV these days. Not deafening applause, I know. But it is still praise. And I'll end with another morsel of it: Parental Guidance clearly illustrates the value of family and the importance of intergenerational wisdom when it comes to bringing up kids in 21st century.