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Trailer: 'Parental Guidance': Billy Crystal and Bette Midler team up as a couple tasked with looking after their grandkids in the generation-gap comedy Parental Guidance, out Christmas Day.
Billy Crystal and Bette Midler have a lot in common. / Robert Sebree / USA WEEKEND

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Billy Crystal and Bette Midler have a lot in common. They have big personalities, and they like to make people laugh. But more than anything else, they love being parents.

Crystal has two daughters, Jennifer, 39, and Lindsay, 35. Midler has one, Sophie, 26. Hanging out together in Hollywood after a USA WEEKEND photo shoot, the two could almost be an old married couple, minus the bickering. They’ve known each other more than 40 years and share an easy camaraderie.

“We get along so well because we’re the same person,” Midler jokes. “We’re very similar, although he’s funnier than me.”

Midler grew up in Hawaii but fled to New York at 19. Crystal grew up in New York and stuck around until he was 28. Yet their parenting views and joys are remarkably alike. They even share a regret: “If we’d known how great having children was, we would have had more.” She says it first, and he quickly concurs.

Although Crystal is slightly younger than Midler, he was the first to cross that great divide into grandparenthood. He and his wife of 42 years, Janice Goldfinger, have three little ones under 10 and another due in March. Midler is impatiently waiting and declares, “When I have a grandchild, I’m kidnapping it.”

Meanwhile, she had a taste of the experience while filming the family comedy Parental Guidance, opening Christmas Day. She and Crystal play grandparents called in to babysit three grandchildren for a week while their daughter and son-in-law (Marisa Tomei and Tom Everett Scott) go on a business trip.

Although the film is not exactly a documentary, it grew out of an experience Crystal and wife had years ago. “We babysat Jenny’s two girls for six days while she went away with her husband. On the seventh day, we rested” and realized that grandparenting offered great comedy.

“Styles in parenting change every generation,” says Midler, who categorizes herself and her husband of 29 years, Martin von Haselberg, as “helicopter parents.” “Every child feels their parents were idiotic ... so they say, ‘We’ll do it our way.’”

This generational butting of heads drives Parental Guidance. But, just as in real life, it turns out that old-fashioned doesn’t necessarily mean outlandish, and 21st-century ideas can be welcome options.

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