Dirty Grandpa isn’t for everyone, maybe anyone, but it’s certainly not for disappointed fans of Robert De Niro who at one time, as I recall over the mists of time, was considered the greatest actor of his generation. Dirty Grandpa is for a certain group of moviegoers, and I can only guess who they are but I freely admit that pre-screening it for WhatSheSaid elicited an overwhelming response in me, definitely of the awkward variety.
The energizing sensation the film stirs is a tangy mix of shock, horror, disbelief and awe. It feels like laughter but it’s really rolling “oh no they didn’t” gasps. The gasps fly fast and hard and the result is guaranteed to offend just about everyone.
It’s damned silly, indecent, raunchy, raw, and racist and uber offensive. Yet it walks tall as it crosses all boundaries. It is completely impervious.
We have Robert De Niro’s prosthetic penis making an appearance as Grandpa and grandson (Zac Efron) share a bed. Grandson gets spectacularly high and naked except for a small stuffed animal between his junk and our faces. Those are just a couple of many embarrassing moments, enough to choke a donkey. Plus he has a twenty something lusting after him. Can you imagien if it was the other way around?
For what then film lacks in taste, coherence, humour, writing, direction and substance, and how easily and with what relish it causes revulsion, it has one thing going for it. Exuberance.
Awards season fare lacks exuberance, per usual. The Revenant is “misery porn”. The Big Short reflects the painful financial anxieties that have gripped us for nearly a decade. Room springs from a heartbreaking crime. Dirty Grandpa’s exuberance, flying in the face of all that is good and holy, exists to be contrary.
Had it starred some anonymous hot young actor and not Zac Efron and maybe the guy from the Trivago ads, it would have gone without a stir. But no, they had to cast Robert De Niro as Grandpa. Kind of brilliant, really. Still the film’s not good and it’s mostly De Niro’s fault. I’m sure he doesn’t give a damn either.
Let’s talk about him. He is one of the legends, whose aggressive, in yer face talent has shaped some of the great characters in modern movies. Travis Bickle, Vito Corleone, Alfredo Berlinghieri, Jake La Motta, Rupert Pupkin, James Conway, Sam ‘Ace’ Rothstein, Jack Byrnes – all giants in the De Niro pantheon of honour.
But take a closer look at his more recent film roles and you’ll see a different story. Many of them are fair to middling to awful, some haven’t been released, some slink quietly into Movie Purgatory. They suck. What happened? Why has De Niro lost his lustre? Because he’s taken on some awful properties, it’s hard to say definitively that Dirty Grandpa is the worst, as some claim. It has plenty of competition.
So if Dirty Grandpa isn’t up to standard, De Niro must take some of the blame. His name on a film used to draw a certain respectful anticipation but that is no longer true. He’s let us down too often. To wit: Heist, The Bag Man, the unreleased Killing Season, Red Lights, Killer Elite, Righteous Kill. I’ll stop here.
Dirty Grandpa relies on two things – De Niro’s name and Efron’s sex appeal. Both are smashed to smithereens. In an exuberant way, like I said the film inspires gasps that may also mean “Stop! You’re killing me …and my movie star heroes!”
I stopped expecting greatness from De Niro many moons ago. Why he feels he has to be out there in roles beneath himself is a mystery. But let’s face it head on, he shows plenty of exuberance in Dirty Grandpa and it doesn’t look like he’ll be stopping anytime soon for a reputation reboot. The horses left the barn long ago.