Dirty Grandpa

Cast: Robert De Niro, Zac Efron, Aubrey Plaza, Zoey Deutch, Julianne Hough, Dermot Mulroney

Director: Dan Mazer

Writer: John M. Philips


This is so much more than a bad film. For me a bad film is one that fails to offer anything of substance or value. Whether the film is dull, stupid, lazy, distasteful, or just plain awful, the result is the same. It robs you of your time and offers nothing in return. Dirty Grandpa is something altogether worse. While watching it I wasn’t overcome by how bad it was; I was overcome by how ugly it was. This is a crude, vulgar film that appeals itself to the lowest common denominator. It is an aggressively unpleasant film that made me feel unclean as I was watching it. I’ve watched plenty of films that have made me cringe or that have frustrated me with how irredeemably bad they are but it isn’t often that a film actually makes me feel repulsed. In the year since I’ve started this blog this is the closest I’ve ever come to walking out of a film.

Right after his grandmother’s funeral Jason Kelly (Zac Efron) agrees to drive his grandfather Dick (Robert De Niro) to Florida for the sake of a tradition that they shared. The trip is an inconvenience to Jason who only has a week to plan his rehearsal dinner with his fiancé Meredith (Julianne Hough) but agrees to do it for the sake of the close relationship he and his grandfather used to share. The next day he discovers his grandfather to be a foul-mouthed, heavy-drinking, perverted party animal determined to go to Florida to get laid. On their way to Florida they cross paths with Shadia (Zoey Deutch), a former classmate of Jason’s, and Lenore (Aubrey Plaza), a deviant minx who sets her sights on Dick. In an attempt to get his uptight grandson to loosen up Dick insists that they follow the girls to Deytona Beach for Spring Break. Antics ensue.

Dirty Grandpa presents itself as a raunchy comedy that thrives off bad taste and dirty jokes but not once did this film ever give me a reason to laugh. This film is utterly infected with tasteless humour including dick jokes, poop jokes and fart jokes. The type of humour this film opts for is the lowest form of comedy known to man as it actively refuses to put any thought or craft into any of its laughs. It’s basically the cinematic equivalent of a twelve-year-old boy drawing penises in his notebook and making fart noises with his armpit. It depicts its characters finding themselves in awkward, compromising situations that American Pie would call forced. It prides itself on having its despicable characters behave in despicable ways, decreeing it as life being lived to its fullest. Its cheap, tactless jokes even take shots at every target it can, including gay people, black people and disabled people, and does so with an almost remarkable amount of insensitivity and tastelessness. To call this film offensive to any of these people doesn’t go far enough. This film is offensive to humanity.

How is it that the man who has starred in great works of cinema under the direction of Martin Scorsese, Sergio Leone and Brian De Palma agreed to such an affront to film? How could the man who played Vito Corleone, Travis Bickle and Jake La Motta agree to a role that requires him to wank on-screen and take part in what is called ‘a flex-off’? What happened to Robert De Niro? Watching his talent go to waste in this film made me feel very sorry indeed. Not only is this film uncompromisingly unfunny, it is also fundamentally misguided. It attempts to throw in this half-baked moral about how life has to be lived to the fullest as Dick attempts to teach Jason to do what he wants to do and to think for himself. He does this by subjecting him to peer pressure, getting him to humiliate and degrade himself and encouraging him to abandon all of his commitments in order to pursue some girl he’s known for two minutes because they kind of like each other or something. It is exactly as ridiculous and clichéd as it sounds.

Dirty Grandpa is the worst kind of movie. It aspires to be nothing more than trash and delivers nothing less. The audacity this film has to produce this kind of rubbish and then dare to call it entertainment is nothing less than an insult. I don’t know what depressed me more: watching a screen legend debase himself in the crudest possible way, watching a film that was completely void of any redeeming features, or listening to certain members of the audience as they laughed along with every moment of vulgarity and every worthless joke. Somehow there is still an audience for this Happy Madison type of humour that is allowing these films to be made. Dirty Grandpa is an incessantly sickening, ugly, cringeworthy film that was a profound displeasure to watch with every painful second and everybody who worked on it should be deeply ashamed, most of all Mr. De Niro. This brand of comedy cannot die out soon enough.

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Joy

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Robert de Niro, Édgar Ramírez, Diane Ladd, Virginia Madsen, Isabella Rossellini, Bradley Cooper

Director: David O. Russell

Writer: David O. Russell


The movie opens with a dedication to “daring women everywhere”. Through the character of Joy (no surname) the film aspires to capture the voice of those women all over the world who dare to be more than others have said they can be. This film is made for the working mothers who have to work themselves to the bone every day to get by. It is for the women who possess talent, ideas and potential but have been held back by their circumstances and commitments. This film is for the women who have had to fight for their victories against the constraints placed upon them by an inequitable patriarchal system. These women have voices that demand and deserve to be heard and I admire this film for speaking out for them and for delivering a message about the value of determination and hard work. I just wish it were a better film.

Joy (Jennifer Lawrence) is a divorced working mother of two trying to provide for herself and her entire family. This includes her reclusive mother Terry (Virginia Madsen) who spends her days watching melodramatic soap operas, her father Rudy (Robert de Niro) who has returned home following an unsuccessful third marriage, and her ex-husband Tony (Édgar Ramírez) who still plans on making it big with his singing. Joy herself has always dreamed of applying her creativity as an inventor but had to abandon that ambition to focus on her commitments. Nevertheless her grandmother Mimi (Diane Ladd) has always maintained that Joy has the potential to become a strong, successful woman. When Joy is inspired one day to create a self-wringing mop, she decides to follow her idea through and market her new invention. In her endeavour however she is met with numerous adversities that threaten to stop her from achieving her dream and finally realising her full potential.

In her third collaboration with David O. Russell, Jennifer Lawrence drives this film single-handedly as the indomitable Joy and gives what is by all means a good performance. Her character is determined, strong-willed and smart and Lawrence portrays these qualities with both humour and conviction. Over the course of this film I was definitely rooting for her and I felt for her every time one of the adversities she faced beat her down. I’m not convinced that Lawrence deserves all of the awards attention she has been getting but it is nevertheless a decent performance. The rest of the cast however were not so great. The one-dimensional characters that surround Joy seem to have been deliberately shaped into the most implausibly unlikeable people possible in order to make her situation that much worse. They include the overly-pathetic mother, the overly-contemptible father with his overly-insufferable girlfriend, and the overly-disdainful sister. I know that they’re supposed to be awful characters but it’s a wonder that Joy puts up with any of them. Bradley Cooper as well is completely wasted in his role as a television marketing executive who helps Joy gain some exposure for her creation. The only pleasant surprise for me was the ex-husband who turned out not to be the total loser that the film built him up to be.

I’ve found that there are some people who were thrown off when they realised that the dramatic crux of this movie was the selling of a mop. However if a film like Bicycle Thieves can build its drama around a bicycle then Joy can certainly do the same with a mop. I think the reason the film lost me in the end was because the concept felt a little too familiar and the story as a whole just felt pretty haphazard. The movie’s pacing was all over the place, especially in those parts where the film cut over to those segments of Terry’s ridiculous soap opera. Those scenes, while funny, just felt unnecessary. Joy’s journey as a character is fine for the most part but still feels pretty tired. It seems like Russell is trying to tell this story in a new way but for all his style and skill I think the emotional weight got lost somewhere.

I like the message that this film is trying to tell and I like that it assumes the voice of a group that doesn’t get heard often enough. The result of Russell’s efforts is a pretty decent film but lacks the fire or resolve of Joy’s character. I think perhaps because Russell stylised the film more than it needed to be, the story lost its plausibility and therefore much of my investment. I was invested enough to follow Joy to the end but I didn’t receive any sort of emotional reward from the film’s climax. I was left feeling pretty indifferent to the film’s resolution and haven’t thought much about it since. All in all the film is fine. It has a good central performance and some enjoyable moments but is all based around a story that I found to be quite unfulfilling.

★★★

The Intern

Cast: Robert De Niro, Anne Hathaway, Rene Russo, Adam DeVine

Director: Nancy Meyers

Writer: Nancy Meyers


Watching this film was kind of an odd experience for me. I wasn’t expecting to like it because, based on the trailer, I was expecting a bland story with two great actors putting their talents to waste on the same tired clichés that we’ve all seen a million time before. In the end it wasn’t any of those things, or at least it wasn’t to the extent that I expected it to be. The characters were more layered than I expected. The story was more thoughtful than I expected. The comedy was more decent than I expected. All in all The Intern was better, smarter and more interesting than the film I expected it to be and yet, for some reason, I still didn’t enjoy it very much. I never felt very attached to the characters, the jokes never got a laugh out of me (well… maybe once), and the film failed to make any sort of a lasting impression on me. It wasn’t a terrible film; it just did nothing for me.

Ben Whittaker (Robert de Niro) is a retired widower who has found himself restless without a partner to keep him company or any work to keep him busy. He applies for a senior internship at an up-and-coming online fashion company as a way of getting a routine and perhaps even some fulfilment into his life. His boss is Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway), the CEO and founder of the company whose commitment to her work keeps her busy minute by minute every day. In spite of being assured by Jules that she won’t have anything for him to do, Ben is still able to distinguish himself by performing other tasks around the office and by being an all-round nice guy to everyone. The office personnel soon learn that Ben has much wisdom to impart as an old-fashioned and accomplished elder that helps them all to cope with their daily stresses and problems. Jules in particular soon grows dependent on his help and advice and forms a friendship with him as he helps her to overcome the troubles of her professional and personal lives.

I’m kind of ambivalent about De Niro’s character. Essentially he is an all-round decent seventy-year-old man; he is kind, caring, charming, patient, hardworking, complacent and judicious. He is a perfectly pleasant character. The problem is that I didn’t find him at all interesting. The film basically made him too perfect; I haven’t seen a character this amiable since Cary Grant in The Bishop’s Wife who was literally an angel sent from heaven. Over the course of the film he never shows any limitations as a character, he barely has any obstacles to overcome, and he doesn’t accomplish anything for himself nor does he learn anything new about himself. He’s likeable enough but I couldn’t find anything compelling about him whatsoever. Jules however was more of a surprise. I figured she was a typical workaholic who simply needed to learn to loosen up more and to figure out what was really important in life (family and pleasure over work and all that good stuff). As I learned more about her though I found that her problems were actually more complex than I’d originally thought and that there weren’t any easy solutions for them. It may not have been the most substantial character arc but it still made me feel for her.

The generation gap is a theme that is made prominent in this film. A point is made about how the elderly have much to offer the younger generation including a wealth of knowledge and wisdom that has been built upon decades of experience. The film also points out the generational gap between the men and how somewhere along the line men seem to have lost their old sense of class, style and dignity. The younger guys of the office are portrayed here as an unruly bunch who have no idea how to treat women like ladies or how to look and act like the gentlemen of Ben’s generation. This gap is also employed for comical effect as it depicts Ben’s cluelessness with technology. It is an idea that works well enough I guess but none of it is stuff we haven’t heard or seen before.

As I was watching this film I saw that the audience I was with enjoyed it just fine. They laughed and gasped at all the right places and seemed contented when they left theatre. For whatever reason though this film simply didn’t do it for me. I think this might be because The Intern is essentially a film that hinges upon the talent and chemistry of its two leads. While both actors do well enough in their roles and do share a chemistry that is undeniable, it simply wasn’t enough to sell me on this film. While it wasn’t at all unpleasant to watch, it was still pretty forgettable. If a little bit of pleasantness and some light comedy is all you want from a film like this then you’ll probably like it just fine. This film just wasn’t for me.

★★