The generational differences in parenting are humorously explored in Andy Fickman’s film Parental Guidance. Our natural tendency is to see the mistakes made by our own parents and then pledge to not be like them when we are parents. But the problem with trying to not be like our parents is that this negative evaluation only shows us how not to act while providing little guidance on how we could act as a better way to parent. The result is that each generation of parents has the best of intentions but often only makes new mistakes as new methods of parenting are attempted. Perhaps films such as this one can help us see how each generation has its own strengths and we need to not throw everything out when we’re correcting perceived weaknesses in previous parenting styles.
Appropriately cast in this comedy is Billy Crystal as the grandfather and Bette Midler as the grandmother. As Artie and Diane Decker, they are a unique couple who have one daughter, Alice (Marisa Tomei), who is married to Phil Simmons (Tom Everett Scott). Alice and Phil have three beautiful children, Harper (Bailee Madison), Turner (Joshua Rush) and Barker (Kyle Harrison Breitkopf), who have had little contact with their Decker grandparents for a variety of reasons.
When Phil is invited to a tropical island to receive a business award for his futuristic house that he designed to be operated by a master computer, he asks Alice to join him. Because Phil’s parents are unable to watch the children, their only choice is to invite her parents to do so. Alice reluctantly agrees. The reason for this and the parenting decisions these grandparents make in providing their care produce both the humor and the tender messages within the film.
Although the film amplifies the generational differences in both technology and parenting practices, it is obvious that both good intentions and human failings are a part of all family life. That we need to give one another grace and forgiveness as well as love is a message we can all understand and apply in our own families.
Discussion for those who have seen this film:
1. When Alice and her father reconcile, they come to an understanding that could have been accomplished a decade earlier if they had talked. What unfinished business do you have with your parents that a conversation might resolve? What could you do to begin that conversation?
2. Barker’s inability to let go of his imaginary friend caused him to have him die in an accident when he was finally ready to let him go. Some children have left their imaginary friends at truck stops on vacation trips, others have had them run away from home or used some other way to get them out of their lives. Why do you think children create imaginary friends and how would you as a parent or grandparent deal with this?
3. The decision of the grandparents to let a twelve-year-old girl go to a party seemed to be unwise to her mother because she was supposed to practice every waking minute for an audition the next day. How much do you think a twelve year old should be pushed to pursue a talent or opportunity to go to the best schools to develop that talent? What did you feel that you missed out on as a child because your parents pushed you to achieve an academic, musical, athletic or other goal? Or what talent do you wish your parents had pushed you harder to develop?
Cinema In Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of the Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara. For more reviews: www.cinemainfocus.com.