After fifteen minutes of trailers and the first five minutes of Daddy’s Home, I left the theatre and informed the staff that they’d put on the wrong film. After another minute or so, the movie was paused on a frame of Will Ferrell‘s face contorted into a crying grimace (he was flattered that his stepdaughter wanted him to take her to a dance, or something), which the audience stared at for a further three minutes, before the correct movie, Dirty Grandpa, finally began. It really wasn’t worth the wait.
The opening credits feature images of Robert De Niro and Zac Efron so horribly photoshopped that I thought for a moment they may be intentionally created so poorly. They were just terrible. From here the film itself opens on the funeral of Jason’s ((Efron) grandmother, which is occurring a number of days before his wedding. Sandwiched between these two events is spring break – it’s a very conveniently busy week. Jason’s now-widower grandfather, Dick (De Niro) requests that Jason drive him to Florida under false pretenses – in reality, he wants to travel to Daytona Beach in order to bed college girls.
In the first ten minutes of the film (seriously, I timed it), we’re quickly taken through what Jason wanted to do as a child, to what he does now, to how horrible his fiancée (Meredith, played by Julianne Hough) is, and how much of a perfect match he was for a girl (Zoey Deutch) with whom he went to college. Everything is set up in order to allow the majority of the movie to progress with extraordinarily little plot or character development until the final moments of the film.
It really is stressed just how horrible Meredith is, presumably in an effort to distract us from just how unlikable Jason is. He nearly cheats on his fiancée (only stopped by a ringing phone) and while he makes the decision to call off their marriage around halfway through the movie, he doesn’t bother telling her until the rehearsal dinner. Actually though, the end of this rehearsal dinner scene is great, far and away the best part of the entire film – not very hard when the rest of the film is complete garbage. Involving malfunctioning microphones, poor choices in intermediaries and traitorous cousins, I laughed out loud for what I think was the only time in this movie which I am almost certain was marketed as a comedy.
There’s a particularly notorious joke that’s been around for decades called The Aristocrats. Different in every telling, it basically involves a family performing their act for a talent agent. This act is as depraved and obscene as the imagination of the comedian telling the joke. The punchline is unremarkable; after the description of the act, the agent asks what they call it, to which they reply “The Aristocrats!”. Dirty Grandpa follows the same internal logic, sacrificing any real humour or payoff and simply swearing as much as possible, describing sexual acts with all of the vulgarity you could imagine and throwing in some weak slapstick to boot. The problem is that this isn’t just a joke told for the shock factor before moving on – it’s one hundred and two minutes of it. It wears thin very quickly. Dick could easily be a recurring character in an adult comedy series. Why not? Small doses a couple of times a season, the sexually-frustrated foul-mouthed grandpa of one of the show’s characters. As the lead in a feature-length film, though? It’s just boring.
The dialogue isn’t especially clever, and I have the feeling that a lot of it was improvised – especially the lines uttered by Lenore (Aubrey Plaza). They’re not even funny, and there are brief moments of awkwardness after each one, like the other actors are waiting for someone to yell “cut”. It gets even worse when it tries to switch tones towards the end of the film. Jason and Dick have their obvious and formulaic falling-out, with the actors reacting as serious people while melancholy music plays over the top. Problem is, the dialogue is just as vulgar and crappy as ever – just without any attempts at humour. It’s a really, really bad scene. Jason just yells obscenities while Dick whines about being horny, and then the scene ends. And, for no reason at all, Jason is also wearing ridiculous clothing, having just been let out of a police-station. It made sense the first time he was arrested, because he was naked, but this time he was arrested fully-clothed, so I see no reason why he’d need to wear confiscated clothing again.
The real shame is that the premise for the movie isn’t that bad, and there are one or two very vague hints at something that might’ve been nice to explore, like Dick wanting to be a good grandfather as a kind of redemption for being a bad father, but they’re almost deliberately ignored in favour of just (unsuccessfully) going for cheap laughs. If someone offers you free tickets to see this movie, go bowling instead. Honestly, I kind of wish they’d just left Daddy’s Home on…