‘Use your words’, a mantra popular in modern Montessori-style parenting, is repeated several times in the course of this aggressively processed family comedy. The scriptwriters, however, don’t appear to have taken it to heart. Seemingly found languishing in a studio vault from around 1988 – with then-bankable stars Bette Midler and Billy Crystal having aged, Dorian Gray-style, in celluloid – it at least offers some sort of narrative alibi for its litany of dated, blearily delivered punchlines.
Midler and Crystal play out-of-touch retirees looking to bond with their estranged grandchildren when their neurotic Type-A daughter (the wonderful Marisa Tomei, desperately seeking to add more to the role than hair and a handbag) and son-in-law call on them to babysit for a week. The three kids, who range from precocious to positively psychotic, are wary of the intruding oldsters – as well they might be, given that the eerily preserved Granny Bette and Grandpa Billy can scarcely move one facial muscle between them. The latest in a long run of 2012 films to confront the indignities of ageing, this one is arguably, if not intentionally, the most harrowing.
Needless to say, it all comes drippily right in the end as the dynamic duo gradually teach the children the joys of granola-free living, via the usual assortment of pained pratfalls, potty humour and, in one particularly toe-curling musical number, 1950s doo-wop music. Watching this pair of formerly spry comic forces shuffle around the kitchen yowling ‘Book of Love’ at each other, you may well need to use your words… if you can even find them. Guy Lodge