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A Jewy Little Christmas

Three comedies—This Is 40, Parental Guidance, and The Guilt Trip—give the holidays cheap laughs

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Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann in This Is 40; Bette Midler in Parental Guidance; Barbra Streisand in The Guilt Trip (Suzanne Hanover/Universal Pictures; Phil Caruso/Twentieth Century Fox; Paramount Pictures)

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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julis123 says:

Great. More stereotyping of Ashkenazi Jews in the movies.

Angus T Cat says:

I grew up in Miami. My family kept Kosher and ignored Christmas. We never went to a Chinese restaurant on Christmas. One year we went furniture shopping on Christmas Day. When I go back to visit I love going to the beach on Christmas. I think of going to the beach on Christmas as a Miami tradition.

Longtime teacher says:

I really enjoyed The Guilt Trip. As a Jewish mother in her 50s of any only son, this is my life (and to a lesser extent his). I thought the movie was funny and heartwarming and Streisand is terrific. Boy do I wish someone would write something for her worthy of her talents. . This is 40 had its moments, but was way too long. I won’t go near Parental Guidance.

fred capio says:

it is amazing how quickly many Jews have forgotten 1700 years of Christian violent intolerance and anti-Semitism

tendilla says:

We haven’t seen any of the 3 movies ….but I’m sure we will at least on DVD or HBO.

I just want to say ….even BAD Streisand, Midler & Crystal is a Hanukkah treat and preferable to NO Streisand, Midler & Crystal!!! BAD as the Fokkers & Baby Fokkers is/was it was still wonderful to see Streisand & Hoffman Qvell over Ben Stiller!!!

Jews love to watch and read about Jews in movies & books and I want more!!! The real thing that bothers me is that if everyone knows that Sandler, Rogen, Stiller, Crystal, Midler, Dreyfus are always playing Jewish…why NOT SAY THEY ARE JEWS IN THE MOVIES??? Are the producers STILL AFRAID THE GENTILES WON’T WATCH????

Yeah, maybe we should stew and wallow in self-pity instead.

fred capio says:

I am not suggesting self-pity, I suggest stop kissing Christian arse. Go and wipe your nose…

rabbijasonmiller says:

In Knocked Up the couple was actually Katherine Heigel’s sister and brother in law.

gwhepner says:

TOO JEWY

Add Jews to your ratatouille,

so thatit may have a meaty

flavorthat, because it’s Jewy,

will respond to your entreaty

for some spice in life that you

won’tfind in purely Christian dishes

till Judeois in your stew,

a Jewishgenie granting wishes

of those whose eyes are blue and dewy

for something that a large percentile

of people crave, when feeling bluey,

Jew-consumerswho are gentile,

but maysend back the dish if it

appearstoo Jewy, overflavored

by the Jew whose intromit

elicits groans, no longer favored.

gwhepner@yahoo.com.

The characters in The Guilt Trip and Parental Guidance are not really explicitly Jewish, and I’m quite happy about that. After all, this has been yet another year with the usual collection of young, attractive, Jewish actors (Mila Kunis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Logan Lerman, Andrew Garfield, etc.) playing non-Jewish roles. If we can’t get young attractive Jews to play Jews, then I certainly don’t want the alternative. Thanks, but no thanks.

DJKuulA says:

Parental Guidance is a prime example of a film that critics despise but the general public enjoys. My wife and I liked it a lot (and I used to write DVD reviews).

I fell asleep during The Guilt Trip. Not sure if my wife did too.

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A Jewy Little Christmas

Three comedies—This Is 40, Parental Guidance, and The Guilt Trip—give the holidays cheap laughs

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