It’s fast becoming a rule of thumb that January-released Zac Efron films should be avoided like the plague. This is a most unfortunate turn of events for an actor who essentially made his name when HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL was released in January of 2006 and propelled his career into the stratosphere. Lately though, this frigid month has left him out in the cold. THAT AWKWARD MOMENT wasn’t well-received critically or commercially. And now Director Dan Mazer’s DIRTY GRANDPA debuts, and it’s even more egregious – most disappointing as Mazer knows a thing or two about crafting smart, sharp and satirical comedy (see BORAT, BRUNO and DA ALI G SHOW).
The plot is this: A week before his wedding, uptight lawyer Jason (Efron) is tasked to take his ex-Army grandpa Dick (Robert De Niro) to Boca Raton. However, Dick has other plans for their road trip – a detour to Daytona’s Spring Break so he can have sex with college girl Lenore (Aubrey Plaza). Not only is the film not any good, even by raunch-com standards, but it goes out of its way to make sweeping sexist, racist and homophobic generalizations. Plus it’s unapologetically derivative of the works of Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (THE HANGOVER, 21 & OVER). Now, there’s a sentence I’d never thought I’d say!
Here are the multitude of ways in which DIRTY GRANDPA hurt me as both a cinephile and feminist:
Female characters: Women are either dead like Jason’s Grandma, shrill shrews like Jason’s fiancé Meredith (Julianne Hough), who interrupts Grandma’s funeral to have Jason pick out a tie, or whores like Lenore (Aubrey Plaza), whose sole purpose it is to be objectified. You’d think writer John Phillips would take another page from Lucas and Moore’s playbook and make Shadia (Zoey Deutch, star of January ’14 release, VAMPIRE ACADEMY) the picture’s archetypal “Madonna,” but he fails at doing that as her character’s introduction is through a deceitful act. Just because she’s the only young woman who stays covered up in this, with her flowy tops, hair braids and hippie statement necklaces, doesn’t make things okay. Plus, transitional bumpers are chock-full of gratuitous shots of barely-there bikinis, whose wearers are either bouncing around in a pool, sucking on ice-pops in the most phallic of manners, or slathering each other suggestively with sunscreen..
Dick’s quest: I know; call me crazy, but from moment one, it’s almost impossible to empathize with Dick’s dick-driven quest to get laid by a much younger woman. His obstinate insistence upon it is skeevy, and undoes any genuine sweet sentiment that comes out of his poorly-comedically-interrupted heart-to-hearts with Jason. It’s clear he’s trying to fight aging, but he’s falling into cliché faster. Rather than rooting for Dick to get laid, I rooted for Lenore to get a pep talk from Gloria Steinem.
Any dialogue that comes out of Lenore’s mouth: Yes, we’ve already established that she’s a horrific character. She says some pretty crass things, including a terrible joke about her period (proving that this was written by a man. Cough, cough. I’m looking at you too, HOT PURSUIT.). However, saying “Party some babies into us,” and “I want you to tsunami on my face,” are particularly awful and will cut deep into your soul.
The bubblegum pink Mini Cooper: Dick constantly refers to it in terms of female anatomy. “Lady bit,” “giant tampon,” and mocking Jason when he drops his cell phone in between the front seats, calling it the car’s “vagina.” This isn’t funny on any level.
Golf course scene: In the scene where Jason and Dick go golfing, Dick aggressively hits on two female golfers. Dick teaches the skimpiest dressed woman how to swing. She makes a reaction like she could feel him getting excited. If this happened with a stranger, that’s an unwanted advance and I’d be out of there in a heartbeat. And yet these two women stick around until Jason says some #LadyBonerKill things about his job.
Racism and Homophobia: It should come as no surprise that a misogynist like Dick is also a rampant racist and homophobe. Dick makes insulting remarks to Lenore and Shadia’s African American gay bestie, Bradley (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman), upon meeting him. Though Bradley calls him out on it, that doesn’t make things better from our perspective. Dick obnoxiously teases Bradley as “the prettiest girl on the beach” and later jibes that he’ll want a “purple drank.” It’s shocking that the filmmakers think we’ll buy it when Dick comes to Bradley’s rescue from a bunch of African American thugs at a club later. In act three, we visit Dick’s army buddy Stinky (Danny Glover), who teases that Jason looks like a lesbian – K.D. Lang, more specifically – and asks if he’s there to “scissor” with him. Dicks are also drawn on Jason and his father David’s (Dermot Mulroney) faces.
Stinky’s offensive needlepoint: It’s a sexually explicit image with the woman prominently displayed.
Inopportune Facetime conversation: In the film, Jason predictably lets loose, getting high on pills, booze and crack. He strips down to nothing but a stuffed bee (reductive of Jeff Chang’s teddy bear “costume” in 21 & OVER), spends the night on the beach and is awoken by a call on his iPhone with his fiancé who prefers to Facetime. Mazer’s framing of this is amateur, as is the clunky editing by Anne McCabe (a supremely talented editor who, most likely, had her feminism trampled so badly that she no longer cared). The joke of the family and the rabbi seeing Jason in a compromised state is similar to the dry cleaner scene from THE SWEETEST THING, only it doesn’t land nearly as well.
Child molestation misunderstanding: I’m just going to leave it at that. No one should hear, let alone see, these things.
Possible attempts at equality: The filmmakers have been grossly misinformed that by showing Efron shirtless and sometimes pantsless makes up for all the objectifying of women. It doesn’t. Men in this come off looking and behaving just as bad as the women. Yay, equality?
Academy Award Winner Robert De Niro: Remember when we thought it was bad enough that Redfoo put his balls in the cinematic icon’s face in LAST VEGAS? Or, before that, when he had to get a penile injection of Adrenalin in LITTLE FOCKERS? Here, we witness him masterbating on a recliner.
What’s the point of all this? Is it that in comedy, similar to SOUTH PARK, no one is spared from being mocked? If so, you’d hope that more thought was put into these jokes by the filmmakers. But here we are.
DIRTY GRANDPA is now playing.