posterFirst Thoughts

Billy Crystal and Bette Midler star in the hilarious comedy about grandparents who have been asked to watch their grandchildren for a week. At first, I wasn’t too sure about this film. It was on my “wait-for-DVD” list. But, when the chance came to go a free preview screening, I thought, “Why not?” And I’m glad I did. The film was much better than I had anticipated.

This is a great family film. Crystal and Midler were a great pair as Artie and Diane. Their daughter, Alice (Marisa Tomei) and her husband Phil (Tom Everett Scott) need to go out of town as Phil accepts an award. The only way they can do it, if is Alice’s parents come to Atlanta for a week. The three children, Harper, Turner, and Barker are all great. They each have their own challenge – Harper is playing the violin without joy, Turner stutters, and Barker has an imaginary friend. All of these find some resolution at the end of a week with Artie and Diane.

The story, developed by Crystal, is a great story about being family. It is told through the comical eyes of Billy Crystal, complete with baseball metaphors and silly gags. Artie is a baseball game announcer. He (like his creator) loves the game. At the end of the season, however, Artie is fired. He is too old, and they want fresh blood. This is the first dilemma in this story.

Artie has a hard time dealing with being fired, because it means the end of his dream of announcing for the Giants. As he talks to Diane about it, the phone rings. It is Alice, she is in a bind, and is wondering if they would be interested in watching the children for a week. Alice is expecting them to say no. While Artie shakes his head no, Diane yells out, “Yes!” This opening scene shows us that there is something amiss between parents and grown up child. As the film unfolds, we begin to put all the pieces of this paper together.

And as we piece the story together, we realize the brilliance of releasing this movie on Christmas day. It is a story about family coming together, depsite their distance geographically and emotionally. There is no Christmas tree, no Christmas presents, no Christmas celebrations. Just everyday family stuff. And that is what’s remarkable about this film. It is not Christmas, but it feels like Christmas. Why? Because it is about family.

We all have some Crazy

There is no doubt that everyone who sees this film will connect with one of the family members. And we can all relate to Alice who tries to avoid letting her children around their crazy relatives. We learn that for Alice, the crazy are her parents. When Artie and Diane arrive at their home in Atlanta, they learn that they are the “other grandparents.” The ones that rarely see their grandchildren. Diane vows that by the end of the week, that is going to change.

As I screened this film in the movie theater, there was a lady a few seats down from me that kept making comments about Alice’s behavior. Her commentary on the film, was a connection. She related to Artie and Diane who aren’t as crazy as Alice makes them out to be, because Alice has some crazy in her, too. Alice has tried to raise her three children the exact opposite way that her parents raised her. They are not told “no,” they are told to consider the consequences. And despite the rolling of the eyes from Artie and Diane, it works for Alice and her family.

Alice is so worried about leaving her kids with her parents, that she almost never leaves to go be with Phil. Diane finally takes Alice that the hand and drives her to the airport. She tells Alice that she needs to be with her husband, because when your children grow up and leave, your  husband is all you got.

Transformation is Possible

Artie and Diane’s way of parenting is different from Alice and Phil’s. What makes the movie is watching Artie and Diane figure out how to build a relationship with their grandchildren. Yes, they make mistakes. Artie puts himself first, putting Barker in danger. Diane threatens Harper’s violin teacher. This is part of the remarkable quality of this film. Artie and Diane make a ton of mistakes. But mistakes and failures are not final. Transformation is possible.

After the mistakes, and after the clean up, there is time for coffee. Artie comes down into the kitchen and finds Alice drinking a cup of coffee (or herbal tea). He sits with her and the two of them have a great heart-to-heart about what happened. They also begin the hard work of mending their relationship.

Alice eventually comes to terms with the fact that her parents have a made a difference in her children’s lives. Harper finds her twelve-year voice and tells her mom she doesn’t want to audition for this other school. She likes the school she’s at. Barker’s imaginary friend tragically dies. As Phil points out to Alice, only Barker could make that happen. Artie tells Barker a number of times that Barker needs to be in control of his friend, not the other way around.

And the tearjerker of the film comes when Turner, who stutters and struggles to find his voice, walks up on stage to an empty microphone. He suddenly starts reciting the play by play of a baseball game that he and Artie have been listening to. Word for word, Turner recites the whole things without stuttering once. It is in this moment that Alice not only realizes but accepts what her dad has done for her family.

Overall, the film is a great family movie (grandchildren, take your grandparents). The story is not as disjointed as I feared it would be. The gags are funny, with clean language, and not all of the funny scenes are in the previews. The young actors are just as good as Crystal and Midler.