“Parental Guidance” vs. “Guilt Trip”: Ho Ho Ho?
I’ve ingratiated myself enough with studio publicists that I have my choice of screening invites tonight: the Billy Crystal-Bette Midler farce Parental Guidance or the Barbra Streisand-Seth Rogen vehicle The Guilt Trip. But is it really a choice?
They’re both broad comedies costarring old broads (and I mean that as a compliment). And they’re examples of a genre I’m calling Least Objectionable Alternative Holiday Movies (LOAHMs).
Here’s the scenario: You’re home visiting relatives for the holidays, and you’re looking to kill a couple of hours that would otherwise be occupied with awkward family conversations. Studios seize upon these opportunities and release films on or near Christmas that are designed not to offend any member of your extended clan. Think of the Steve Martin-Diane Keaton remake, Father of the Bride (December, 1991). Or the Steve Martin-Diane Keaton sequel, Father of the Bride, Part II (December, 1995).
These flicks often have family-reunion themes and star actors who are so familiar, you practically feel related to them—like Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau in Grumpy Old Men (December 1993) or Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau in Grumpier Old Men (December 1995). The productions are relatively cheap—there are no fancy special effects, and the talent can be gotten for less than their onetime asking prices. Rocky Balboa (December 2006) cost only $24 million—that used to be the catering budget on a Sylvester Stallone movie.
And the upside can be huge. Take Meet the Fockers (December, 2004)—please. Adding the beloved Barbra Streisand and Dustin Hoffman to the Meet the Parents franchise led to more than half a billion dollars in worldwide box office. Perhaps not coincidentally, both actors are big draws for Jewish audiences, who have a tradition of going to the movies on Christmas Day. It’s the cinematic equivalent of Chinese food—and aptly enough, you’re hungry for more an hour later.
So this year, Barbra’s back—this time, as Seth Rogen’s mother instead of Ben Stiller’s ma (how is it that her onscreen kids keep getting younger and younger?). Meanwhile, Billy and Bette play Marisa Tomei’s folks. I’m not sure how that works; was she adopted? And the plots are, unsurprisingly, all about relatives forced to spend time together—Rogen reluctantly agrees to take his yenta (not to be confused with Yentl) mom on a cross-country road trip, while Crystal reluctantly agrees to babysit his grandkids while his daughter’s out of town.
So which one should you see? Beats me. I’m opting for Parental Guidance tonight, if only because The New York Daily News is paying me to interview Billy and Bette this weekend. Apparently, Brooklyn-born Barbra’s too big for New York’s hometown paper.
As for my family, they’re planning to see Les Miserables on Christmas Day—without me, as I’ll be driving my kids up the Eastern seaboard so they can split the holiday between me and their mom. Maybe a lavish French Revolution-themed musical is this year’s LOAHM. Because if there’s a word that describes how many people feel about spending one of their few days off with their relatives, it’s Miserables. Or, if you want to freak out your family, Quentin Tarantino’s unleashing Django Unchained…
What cinematic gift are you planning to unwrap for the holidays this year?