A Jewy Little Christmas
Three comedies—This Is 40, Parental Guidance, and The Guilt Trip—give the holidays cheap laughs
The Guilt Trip struck me something best viewed on an airplane. But that was before I sat through the stunningly unfunny Parental Guidance—a strong candidate for the worst movie I’ve seen all year. The J-word is never mentioned here either, although with veteran shtick-meisters like Billy Crystal and Bette Midler playing a pair of veteran shtick-meisters it’s hardly necessary. Artie’s a minor-league baseball sportscaster fired for rampant fogy-ism; Diane’s a former singing TV weather-gal, albeit still a live wire, who introduced pole dancing in her living room with a gang of 60-something cronies. They’re acutely aware of themselves as “the other grandparents” when brought by their semi-estranged daughter Alice (Marisa Tomei) to babysit her three kids while she and her ethnically non-specific husband (Tom Everett Scott) take off for a week.
“Our grandchildren are going to love me,” Diane exults, even as helicopter mom Alice breaks out in her “Artie and Diane rash.” Her kids are already problematic. The oldest daughter is an uptight overachiever who (shades of Golden Boy and Humoresque) is forced by her ambitious mom to study the violin; one of her younger sons is a shy stutterer, the other is an obnoxiously spoiled brat. It’s a given that Grandpa Artie’s residual urban street smarts and wise-guy humor, leavened by Grandma Diane’s earthy acceptance, will work their magic—but be prepared not to hold your breath.
On second thought, maybe you should. Accompanied by audible sighs and groans at the screening I attended, Parental Guidance drops the bar for G-rated tastelessness so low that it’s virtually buried. Not only does Grandpa Artie accept his grandchildren calling him “Farty,” he sings several verses of a no-doubt Crystal-composed song to a constipated tyke that begins, “Come out, come out Mr. Doody, come out and splash in the pool …” Grandma Diane’s lines are genius by comparison. Shopping with her granddaughter she picks out a frilly cocktail number for the child’s violin recital and exclaims, “This is perfect for a girl with cute little heinie!” (Note to dramturg: That’s “tushy,” grandma.)
Not satisfied with merely opening on Christmas Day, Parental Guidance actually inscribes Chinese food into the movie, featuring a Chinese restaurateur so heinously stereotyped he would have made the makers of Charlie Chan cringe—not least when he runs over a grandchild’s imaginary kangaroo playmate in the course of making an emergency delivery of chicken chow mein. It’s scenes like that that bring to mind the line from Godard’s Weekend to the effect that “the horror of the bourgeois can only be overcome by more horror,” although the kangaroo’s funeral does give eulogist Crystal his best joke: “How do you say goodbye to someone you could never say hello to.”
How indeed? If you’re looking for more livelier, more professional entertainment, there’s always Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained. A violent, scurrilous, funny—if family-unfriendly—faux spaghetti western that uses the N-word more times than any movie in the history of the universe, it attempts to do for slavery what Inglourious Basterds did for the Holocaust. Django Unchained also opens Christmas Day which this year is erev Kwanzaa. But that’s another essay.
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