DIRTY GRANDPA, US, 2015. Starring Robert De Niro, Zac Efron, Zoe Deutch, Aubrey Plaza, Dermot Mulroney Maroni, Julianne Hough. Directed by Dan Mazar. 105 minutes. Rated MA (Strong sex scene, crude sexual references, nudity, drug use and coarse language.
Dirty Grandpa more than lives up to its title.
The star is Robert De Niro, surprising his audiences with his extraordinarily crude character and his performance with course language and behaviour, played for some laughs and some meaning (rather, demeaning), with De Niro’s intensity, but really an exercise in crass characterisation. When his obituary will be written, this may not be a film which gets inclusion.
As the film opens, his wife of 40 years to the was devoted has just died. The family gathers for the funeral, including uptight son, lawyer, Dermot Mulroney, and his grandson, whom he loved as a child (and the credits are full of scenes of grandfather and grandson doing all kinds of activities together), now also an uptight lawyer in his father’s firm. There are also a range of cousins, one of whom has quite dirty motormouth for all and sundry, including the priest who conducted the funeral.
We discover, as does his grandson, that Grandpa was a Green Beret, in Special Ops behind enemy lines in Vietnam and Iraq, something which his son doesn’t know – and who despises him thinking he was a mere mechanic. He asks his grandson to drive him to a golf game in Florida (from Georgia). The grandson, Jason, Zac Efron, is engaged to a controlling fiance, marriage coming up in the following week. She keeps tight tabs and does not want him going.
As might be guessed, especially after a gross sequence with grandpa discovered masturbating, this is going to be quite a road trip. They encounter two girls and their gay friend on the way and meet up with them at Daytona Beach – the scene for many of the Hollywood Spring Break movies, those raucous stories of sex and drugs and idiotic behaviour. While this is not necessarily a spring break for grandpa, rather an Autumn Break at his time of life, it is full of ogling sequences, drugs of all kinds, especially from a rather zany dealer who is in cahoots with the local cops, Tan Pam (Jason Mantzoukas), with grandpa and grandson getting into all kinds of trouble, especially because of the drugs, muscle-bound competitions, clash with a violent black and Hispanic gang, with grandson finishing up in prison. And, of course, everything being photographed on phone cameras – to be reproduced at the pre-nuptial dinner.
We know, of course, that this is the purpose of the trip, that grandpa doesn’t want his grandson to marry the uptight fiancee. And he wants to loosen up the uptight grandson, and proving to be a role model of a dirty old man.
Zac Efron is not exactly persuasive in his lawyer sequence but enters into the spirit of the trip, being very hesitant and tight, gradually mellowing, especially when one of the girls they meet was his partner in photography tutorial at College, reminding him that he intended to travel the world and be a photographer for the Time Magazine instead of being a lawyer. For some reason, Zac Efron discards his clothes, scampers around nude, is mistaken for a paedophile, and is generally made fun of.
And then the truth comes out, the girl is disappointed as she was falling in love with him, grandpa and grandson go back, there are the preparations for the wedding, the fiancee being even more controlling and demanding than usual – and then the exposure. Grandpa is not unhappy, mission accomplished, and meeting up with the sometimes lewd and promiscuous young woman that he was pursuing, she more than willing, during the trip.
And, just when you think it is ended, there is a baptism sequence, which is not quite what we thought it was going to be.
There used to be a phrase, Low Moral Turn Tone, to describe this type of film – but, as with so many American comedies, after the crass, raucous and crude, comes the moralising. [The Age reviewer called it unapologetic lowbrow smut.]
Roadshow. Released January 21st.
Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.