After nearly 30 years of friendship and shared tastes in movies, music and comedy, Billy Crystal and Bette Midler have finally taken it to the next level: They did a film together.
The two veteran entertainers first met on the comedy circuit, but never actually worked together until ‘Parental Guidance’. “He says we met in the ‘60s at the Improv, and of course I don’t remember any of that because I was going so fast,” Midler said in a recent interview.
Crystal and Midler share the screen for the first time in the family film, playing a married couple who bumble their way along to bonding with their grandchildren. Marisa Tomei stars as their Type A daughter, who regrets having to entrust her three kids to “the other grandparents” during a business trip with her husband when her in-laws aren’t available.
The idea for the movie came from Crystal’s real life experience caring for his own granddaughters, now ages 6 and 9. He and wife Janice were confounded by the “pages and pages” of rules their daughter left behind. (That daughter, actress Jennifer Crystal Foley, plays a small role in the film.)
“We had them for six days all alone, and on the seventh day I rested,” said Crystal, 64. “And I came into the office and started writing the story of grandparents who have to babysit for their kids while they go away.”
Midler found the script just as she was looking for a family-film project, and she immediately connected with the humour and warmth of the story.
“I wanted to do something that everybody could come and see, because that’s what I grew up with,” she said.
“It came at a really good point in our lives and our careers to finally find each other and be able to share the responsibilities for the movie together and our scenes,” Crystal said. “She’s an old pro, in the best of ways. Take out old, she’s a pro. And very giving, very funny, and very willing to try anything.”
Except sing. Crystal said the Oscar-nominated and Tony-winning star was reluctant to perform a sweet song-and-dance number with him in the film.
“The only time I ever had to wrestle her was on singing the song. She didn’t want to do it,” he said. “(She said,) ‘No, then they’ll say Bette Midler is singing a song.’ And I say, ‘No, we won’t sing great. We’ll sing good, but we’ll sing like parents, and we’ll sing together.’”
Their rendition of the Monotones’ 1958 doo-wop classic “The Book of Love” is among the film’s highlights.
“They kind of talked me into it, and I’m glad that we did it. It worked out,” said Midler, 67. “It’s wonderful music and maybe people will go look up the Monotones and see how fabulous they are.”
Crystal, also a producer of the film, said he uses movies and performing as a means of working through significant chapters of his life. The film “City Slickers” was about him turning 40. His one-man show, “700 Sundays,” is about losing his parents.
“And then this one is about grandparenting,” he said. “I shudder to think what the next one’s about.”
(Actually, he already knows: He’s working on a yet-untitled book of essays — “a man’s approach to aging” — due out in October.)
Midler, who described herself as “just a player for hire” on “Parental Guidance,” said she admires Crystal’s sensibilities, and it was fun to finally work with her friend.
“I like to see people at their peak, people doing their best work and really working hard and bringing things to fruition. It’s just fantastic,” she said. “It’s a hopeful picture, and I like that about him. I like the fact that he has that mentality. So to watch him in action is really a lot of fun.”