Posted in: by Kathleen Murphy, Contributors, Film Reviews

‘Parental Guidance’: Lump of coal

We should have seen it coming. Parental Guidance director Andy Fickman’s previous family farce was “You Again,” which this writer called “totally, inanely, numbingly awful …. From the evidence on-screen, [Fickman’s] directorial skills might serve to mount a mediocre high school play.” Now this hack is back, gifting us with another DOA comedy.

Billy Crystal, Kyle Harrison Breitkopf, Marisa Tomei and Tom Everett Scott in ‘Parental Guidance’

Pity anyone who heads out to take in Guidance, billed as cheery comedy about the clash between old-school and contemporary child rearing, with heartwarming lessons to be learned by three generations of one fractured family. Parents and children blessed with an iota of gray matter or taste will storm the ticket booth to demand refunds. The only people sitting still for this overlong ordeal will be those brainwashed by bad TV sitcoms into yukking on cue at lowbrow comedy and cardboard clowns.

Alice and Phil Simmons (Marisa Tomei, mugging grotesquely, and Tom Everett Scott) are the type of “helicoptering” mommy and daddy who follow a strict program designed to produce perfect children. Off limits are sugar, competitive games, discipline, any kind of unscheduled fun that might derail the kids’ constant grooming for future success. Forget straight talk: Communication is strictly PC, couched in neutered pseudo-therapeutic jargon: “Use your words” instead of getting mad and bashing a bully. Tempted to talk back? “Your opinion has value.” Even the Simmons’ house is programmed to nag like a nanny — courtesy of dad’s prizewinning invention.

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Posted in: by Richard T. Jameson, Contributors, Film Reviews

Review: ‘When Harry Met Sally…’

[originally published in 7 Days, on July 19, 1989]

Archie Bunker may have called him “Meathead” during his seasons as Mike Stivic on All in the Family, but since becoming a feature film director six years ago, Rob Reiner hasn’t made a wrong move. He began by creatively dismantling one genre—the “rockumentary,” in This Is Spinal Tap (1984)—and went on to enhance every other in which he worked. The Sure Thing (1985) was that rarity, a gotta-get-laid teen comedy with genuine feelings and values. Stand By Me (1986) won sleeper status as a coming-of-age fable that had less to do with hyperactive hormones than with the nature and fragility of friendship and morality. Best of all was The Princess Bride (1987), an exquisite fairy tale (by William Goldman) that succeeded in kidding the genre without betraying its tenderness, beauty, and charm.

Woody Allen setup—not! Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal

There is every reason to expect that the director’s latest, When Harry Met Sally…, will become Reiner’s biggest hit to date. It’s the one laugh-out-loud comedy of the summer so far that won’t leave you feeling embarrassed afterward. It’s also, at the same time, a surefire date movie and just the sort of film some people will make a point of seeing solo or, better yet, with battle-scarred friends of the same gender. Yet for all its pleasures, When Harry Met Sally… suggests more clearly than any of its predecessors the limits of Reiner’s grasp, and perhaps of his reach as well.

In 1977, recent college grads Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) and Sally Albright (Meg Ryan) meet uncute and dislike each other. Five years later, they meet again and dislike each other more. Another half-decade goes by. So does Harry’s marriage and Sally’s longstanding relationship. When their paths cross for a third time, both belong to the walking wounded. Although they’ve discussed the improbability of a man and a woman sustaining a friendship without “the sex part” getting in the way, they begin to wonder whether they aren’t perfect candidates to become platonic pals.

They do. Indeed, they become so integral to each other’s lives that they try to fix each other up with their respective best friends (Carrie Fisher and Bruno Kirby). The best friends prefer each other, and so, as any moviegoer worth the candle knows, do Harry and Sally. Harry and Sally don’t know it, of course. When, in a moment of mutual distraction, they impulsively become lovers, they go into postcoital shock.

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