Director Andy Fickman isn’t known for his deft skills at directing comedy, as the Amanda Bynes vehicle “She’s the Man” and last year’s already forgotten “You Again” bear out, but his next film “Us & Them” (which, we suppose completes an unofficial trilogy of films with bland, pronoun-heavy titles) can’t be knocked for lacking talent. It already boasts Billy Crystal returning from the wilderness after “Analyze That,” and now, Variety reports that Bette Midler — absent from our screens since the nonsensical remake of George Cukor’s “The Women” committed gynocide at the box-office in 2008 worse than Charlotte Gainsbourg in “Antichrist” — and precocious “Just Go with It” and “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” star Bailee Madison have also joined the cast.
There’s not a heap of detail on the plot thus far, though it appears to involve the “generation gap” between grandparents and their three adorable grandchildren. Crystal plays a Fresno AAA baseball announcer forced to move in with the three tots and the story’s conflict will allegedly hang on the difference between 21st century child-rearing skills and “the old school of upbringing” (maybe he beats them while reading a book). Midler will put in a turn as Crystal’s partner/wind-beneath-his wings (pray God she’s not a Norma Desmond-style entertainer), and Madison will play one of the mucky pups who may or may not make the pair’s life a living hell.
Yeah, this terrain would seem to be out of Crystal’s comfort zone, unless Nora Ephron has done an uncredited pass at the material or Fickman’s cracking out a hitherto unrevealed Lubitsch touch. But it is penned by one-time prolific Crystal collaborators Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel (responsible for two “City Slickers” films, “Mr Saturday Night” and “Forget Paris” between them) who also presumably coaxed him out of semi-retirement for that less-than dignified cameo in “The Tooth Fairy” last year.
Clearly mining the “wacky family” shtick that worked so brilliantly for Rene Russo and Dennis Quaid in “Yours, Mine and Ours,” and not forgetting Steve Martin in two “Cheaper By the Dozen” movies, heart-warming/”Don’t kids say the darndest things?” guff like this can sell. At the very least there may be a modicum of fun seeing The Divine Miss M and Crystal duking it out, even if the guy who starred in “Vampire in Brooklyn” and “Meet Dave” is hosting the Oscars these days. And, if not, Crystal already has a cameo in “The Muppets” to balance things out or has the option to expand that “When Harry Met Sally 2” trailer to feature-length. Maybe Midler could do a similarly redemptive turn in a big-screen version of “Rochelle Rochelle.”