Dirty Grandpa (2016)

…Does a comedy have to be a good film?


 Dirty Grandpa is the latest film in slew of comedies that have come out in recent years that make me question the integrity of the entire comedy genre as of late.

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I constantly and irremovably have my “film student” glasses on and they don’t let me watch film for just pure entertainment value; I have to critique and analyse every facet of any film I see, be it the high art of the medium like The Revenant or Macbeth, or the popcorn flicks like The Avengers or The Hobbit.
Comedies are meant to entertaining, almost purely so, and some are funny because they point out the absurdities of life, or make a sharp social point.

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Then there are other types of comedies that quickly descend into farce and dismiss story and character development in exchange for a laugh. This is that kind of comedy.
This is where I find some cognitive dissonance.
A comedy should make you laugh. This comedy did make me laugh, more than once.
So it’s successful in its intent and, logically, should be considered good. Right?

But is a laugh all that a comedy should be trying to get from you, regardless of if it’s justified or not? Does a comedy film have to be a “good” film, or does it just have to be funny?
This is my issue, Dirty Grandpa IS funny, I laughed, there are some good gags in there and it is surprisingly ballsy for a Hollywood comedy, but it also harbours a few too many subplots, extraneous characters and a lack of focus. It’s also excessively crass, overly vulgar and would be an uncomfortable viewing experience for some. Critics have heavily panned it, understandably so.

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It isn’t a bad film, but it is frequently in bad taste, and it isn’t good either.

The plot is this:
Dick (obviously) Kelly, the eponymous Grandpa played by Robert DeNiro, is widowed and decides to bond with his corporate lawyer grandson, Jason, (played by Zac Efron) from whom he has become distant. Dick requests that Jason drives him from his home to Florida …for…some reason….?.
Turns out Grandpa Dick is smutty, foul mouthed, old army veteran with no filter who wants nothing more than to “fuck, fuck, fuck” college girls and do exciting stuff now that his wife of 40 years, to whom he was faithful even after the sex evaporated from their cancer-strained marriage, has passed on. Simple enough and certainly seems like a premise for a raunchy romp that could yield a simple story and a fair few laughs.

The plot is a simple one that soon gets derailed by diversions, most notably the subplot of Jason’s waspy, arranged, corporate marriage to his uptight lawyer girlfriend. Of all the stories that take place in this film, this plot seems the least necessary, especially as it is largely ignored once the film gets going, and is discarded with seemingly no consequence once Jason decides out of nowhere that some girl he meets on this escapade and has known for about 2 days by the end of the film is someone with whom he really “has something special”.

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If anything, the most consistent thing in the film is DeNiro’s Dick’s singular desire to fuck an exaggeratedly slutty Aubrey Plaza who wants just as badly to do the diddle with the salacious septuagenarian, and for the most part, the banter and visual gags between the two of them really work, even if they are excessively crass. As a single motive, I wanted to see Dick succeed, not just because Plaza is fine as hell in this film but because Dick is honest about what he wants in contrast to the compromising, uptight grandson he once got on with so well.

My primary issue with the film is that it doesn’t know if it’s a spring break romcom, a Hangover-style lads holiday type film, a role reversal comedy wherein the uptight youngster learns that he’s not truly living his life or a bawdy comedy about an old man’s honest and justified attempts and regaining some element of his youth while his friends and family die (or, worse, stop [truly] living) around him.
It could have been any one of those and have been a better film for it, instead, it chose all of them and more and as a result each is diluted and underplayed.

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The film does have some redeeming qualities.

One of the standout characters in the film is a drug dealer/store owner/DJ/good friend of the police called Tan Pam (“that’s not my real name, it’s actually short for Pamela”) played by Jason Mantzoukas who is just such fun to watch, he’s a magical idiot; he’s obviously a felon but somehow everyone lets him off the hook, he’s like a feature length Amir (as in “Jake and Amir”).

e58a7a4aa46e4fef2436d9bd5cf39e90-jake-and-amir-costumes-part-2He sporadically turns up at points in the film and is positively bouncing off the walls with sheer manic energy every time he’s on screen, a sharp contrast to the zombie-ish corporate relationships of Jason’s family.

 

 

dg-exclposter-small-01I actually enjoyed DeNiro in this, a lot of people are saying it’s a low-point in his career, but I believe he is a smart man, who is very aware of his acting choices and isn’t afraid to just have some fun with a role. That trumps almost any criticism of his role in this film; he’s having fun.
Robert DeNiro has given us countless iconic, memorable, transformative performances for nearly 50 years, doesn’t he deserve to cut loose, and take a break from all the serious, violent, method-acting type roles he’s become so known for?

Ultimately, it’s not a good film, but it’s a passable comedy I guess.


 – Matt S

 

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