Remember landlines? Remember how people used to call home and Mom and Dad would pick up on different extensions, then crack each other up and finish each other’s sentences during the call?
That’s sort of what it was like talking to Billy Crystal and Bette Midler by phone at the same time.
“We’re like a pair of old shoes,” Crystal said during the interview in advance of “Parental Guidance,” which was filmed in metro Atlanta and hits theaters on Christmas Day. “We fell into each other. We loved the director. We loved the material. We loved the characters.”
“It was great fun,” Midler said.
The two play a loving but technologically unsavvy couple who come to stay with their super-wired grandchildren when their adult daughter, played by Marisa Tomei, and son-in-law, played by Tom Everett Scott, take a trip. It’s about as family-friendly a film as you can imagine, perhaps aimed at real families who need to get out of the house after a time of holiday togetherness.
The movie was inspired by a trip Crystal and his wife took to care for their grandkids for a few days.
“It’s all kind of real and natural,” Crystal said. “The best kind of comedy is real.”
The movie is set in Atlanta, and you’ll recognize landmarks such as the Varsity, the Georgia World Congress Center (used for an interior airport scene), the Atlanta International School and Piedmont Park. There’s a fun shopping scene at Perimeter Mall and a big laugh moment at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre. (Amusingly, the on-screen family gets to the Cobb Energy Centre from the Alpharetta area by taking MARTA. It is a movie, after all.)
“Atlanta was always very dear to me,” said Crystal, who has family here. “It was like a second home for a while. We weren’t hiding Atlanta.”
Indeed not. Early in the movie, when Crystal’s and Midler’s characters land at the airport, the camera pauses on the welcome sign that says “We’re glad Georgia’s on your mind,” with Gov. Nathan Deal’s name underneath. We asked Brian Robinson, Deal’s deputy chief of staff for communications, if this might be the governor’s big-screen debut.
“Gov. Deal hasn’t made too many movie appearances, so this is probably a first,” Robinson replied. “The governor is glad, in fact, that Georgia is on the mind of the film industry. Because of our pro-business policies, Georgians are getting accustomed to seeing their state on the big and small screens. That attracts more attention, raises our profile and creates jobs for Georgians.”
Midler hadn’t spent much time here but quickly caught on to the town’s favorite road.
“Atlanta has 26 streets called Peachtree,” she said in a Twitter post during production. “But get this, no peach trees!”
Although she and Crystal admire each other, “Parental Guidance” is their first movie together. We asked if they plan to pair up again and if they plan to film here again. Answer: maybe.
“I’d never been to Atlanta for any length of time,” Midler said. “The support from the city has been absolutely gigantic.”