Billy Crystal’s a Smash at the Movies for Grownups Film Festival

Billy Crystal and the Cast Take a Bow

Billy Crystal confessed that he was left shaking after the thunderous audience response he got at tonight’s preview screening of his  new film Parental Guidance. Those shakes may well been the result of emotional overload, but it may also have had something to do with the sheer physical effect of 2,500 people simultaneously leaping to their feet and roaring their unconditional approval at the final fade-out.

Of course, audiences at the Movies for Grownups Film Festival are always appreciative. The mere fact that they know they’ll see films made with a grownup audience in mind is enough to inspire all kinds of enthusiasm. Past guests have had similar experiences-among them Martin Sheen, Rob Reiner, and Seth Rogen. But I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything quite like what happened a few hours ago over at the New Orleans Convention Center.

The Long Grey Line

After a full day of activities at the AARP Life@50+ member event-panels, speakers (President Obama and V.P. Candidate Paul Ryan among them), concerts, and demonstrations-these folks still stood on a line that seemed to stretch halfway to Biloxi, waiting to get in for the final MFG Fest screening of the day.

Along the way, they passed Billy, director Andy Fickman and young cast members Kyle Harrison Breitkopf, Joshua Rush, and Bailee Madison, who were meeting the press and a few lucky AARP members on the red carpet. Inside, they took their seats in the massive theater, which our friends at 20th Century Fox, the studio that’s releasing Parental Guidance on Christmas Day, had upgraded with enhanced visual and audio equipment just for today.

Full House

Billy Crystal and Meg Grant

At 5:30, AARP the Magazine West Coast Editor Meg Grant took the stage, introduced the celebrity guests, and led them in an engaging conversation about the weeks they all spent filming in Atlanta late last year. I’d wondered if the kids would be able to get  word in edgewise sharing the stage with Billy, but the surprising fact is they actually gave him a run for his money.

Then came the movie, which is not quite finished-some effects and music are still to be added, and instead of closing credits, the film ended abruptly, with a  dark screen. That was the audience’s cue to erupt with that roar that shook the walls, and Billy, too.

Billy, the Center of Attention After the Film

Billy had been sitting in the middle of the theater, and now he was barely visible in the throng, raising his camera phone to record the mayhem around him. Someone handed him a microphone for a few last words.

“This is a movie,” he said, “that was made for us!”

And then he was gone, disappearing behind the front curtain in an explosion of flash bulbs. Those who couldn’t get a photo of him up close settled for posing next to one of the many Billy cut-outs that were stationed around the convention center all day.

It was a huge day for the Movies for Grownups Film Festival. Hundreds of folks came for our screenings of The Descendants and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and hundreds more enjoyed the British High Tea that 20th Century Fox sponsored during the afternoon.

Saturday should be equally exciting. We’re showing Richard Gere’s acclaimed new film Arbitrage at 9 a.m.; then a sneak preview of the upcoming comedy/drama The Oranges, starring Hugh Laurie, Catherine Keener, Oliver Platt and Allison Janney, at noon.

A Cardboard Billy is Better than No Billy at All

Finally, at 3, it’ll be Paul Williams Still Alive, with a special live appearance of the Oscar-and-Emmy-winning singer/songwriter and the director of the film, Stephen Kessler. They’ll sit down with me afterward to chat about Paul’s career, his ups and downs, and whether or not he’d have done it  all differently.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” one AARP member told me after the screening. “I came all the way to New Orleans, and all I’m doing is sitting in movies.”

I understand. But really, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.