It’s a generational thing.
Parents today encourage their young kids to “use your words.” That’s a foreign language to the parents of those parents, who had a different child-rearing philosophy: “Go out and play.”
There’s the premise behind “Parental Guidance,” a surprisingly cute and insightful movie that opened on Christmas Day. Lisa Addario — a 1986 Staples graduate — wrote the screenplay with her husband, Joe Syracuse.
Starring Billy Crystal, Bette Midler and Marisa Tomei, it’s Lisa and Joe’s first foray into the big-time. Now — with a 1st-day box office of $6.6 million that doubled expectations, and $4.4 million the next day — they’re enjoying the ride.
Though Lisa never planned on a writing career — she played volleyball and was a gymnast at Staples, then majored in sociology and Italian at Connecticut College — she realized the power of film through Joe, a college classmate who always wanted to direct.
While living together in Bridgeport — surrounded by “massage parlors” that stayed open until 2 a.m. — they wrote “Lover Girl.” It just missed acceptance into the Sundance Screenwriters Lab. The rejection letter basically said: “You guys are good. Why are you in Bridgeport? Go to L.A.!”
So they did. Lisa and Joe packed up their car, drove west, and moved in with Lisa’s sister Leslie. (Who — in a movie-like twist — is married to Joe’s brother.)
Director Allison Anders got hold of “Lover Girl.” Sandra Bernhard starred in the 1997 film — which was shown at the Toronto and Tokyo Film Festivals, and on Showtime — but that didn’t help the writers.
“It was small and dark,” Lisa says of the film. “We had no idea you were supposed to write with an audience in mind.”
Their next project — “Scissor Happy” — was about growing up in Westport in the 1980s. “It was everyone’s favorite script in Hollywood that no one would make,” Lisa recounts.
But that led to studio jobs. Lisa and Joe honed their craft, wrote and rewrote, and eventually got a break.
Five years ago, Nickelodeon put them in a room with Billy Crystal. He had an idea for a movie about grandparents who take care of their grandchildren. Lisa and Joe’s own kids — Augie and Lulu — were 5 and 7, so they were all over that one.
“We pitched ideas like an imaginary friend who gets killed, and a no-outs baseball league — every game ends in a tie,” Lisa recalls.
Billy Crystal loved it. “Hire them!” he said.
But — Hollywood being Hollywood — the script went through 3 studios and 3 producers. It was finally released by Twentieth Century Fox.
“Even though this was Billy Crystal, playing a grandfather in a real family movie, it still took 5 years to make,” Lisa says.
“Everyone says, ‘Don’t read reviews,'” she adds. That’s good advice. Most have been “terrible,” Lisa notes — except for the New York Times‘ Manohla Dargis, who was not overly harsh.
But audiences love it. It’s that rare film that really does have something for every generation. (I saw it on Christmas Day — and did not know until the final credits that Lisa wrote it.)
Lisa saw it with her 95-year-old grandmother, and 5-year-old nephew. The theater was sold out. “Everyone found something to laugh and cry about,” she says proudly.
The crying came when the stuttering kid delivers a flawless rendition of Russ Hodges’ legendary “The Giants win the pennant!” call from the 1951 playoffs.
The biggest laugh came from a vomit scene. “The studio insisted we put that in,” Lisa says. “I guess they really do know what audiences like.”
But, she says, “That’s the movie. We never set out to do anything more than pure entertainment. I think it works.”
It does. Billy Crystal called on Christmas Day. He was very happy.
Also happy: Lisa’s parents. Her father Philip — co-owner of Phillip Bruce Salon — is thrilled. And her mother, Camille, “blabs about it to everyone,” Lisa says.
Yesterday was hectic, but Lisa was happy to talk about “Parental Guidance” — and Westport. Her sister Lynsey — the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times photographer — was visiting, with her baby. (Their 4th sister, Lauren, is an artist in New Mexico.)
“It’s all good,” Lisa says.
Next up: She and Joe are pitching 3 TV shows (including one with Fred Savage).
And Billy Crystal is deciding whether to do a sequel.