Bad Grandpa

Nov 21, 2013

Is this worth it? Should I bother? At what point does the “low” in “low-art” stoop so low it no longer justifies serious analysis?

In Bad Grandpa, Jackass daredevil-cum-actor Johnny Knoxville, under a thick layer of make-up and prosthetics, plays a disgusting geriatric who goes on a series of drunken adventures with his eight-year-old grandson.

The incorrigible Irving Zisman (Knoxville) gets his penis caught in a vending machine, cracks onto young women, and is wheeled around in a supermarket trolley as his dead wife gradually decomposes in his car trunk.

Unsophisticated sight gags have long been a staple of popular comedy. Watching Charlie Chaplin destroy the scenery in a film like City Lights, smashing into things and pouring alcohol down a fat man’s pants, reminds us that when it comes to brainless laughs, nothing much has changed.

With a risqué single-purpose movie such as Bad Grandpa (the purpose: make ’em laugh make ’em laugh make ’em laugh), appreciation inevitably comes down to a question of taste and to matters concerning “the line”. What it is; whether it is crossed; how often it is thrown up on.

For the record: yes, Knoxville and director Jeff Termaine (a Jackass alumni) cross it, but Bad Grandpa isn’t without a sense of art. It is styled with faux DIY aesthetic, as if indie rabblerouser Harmony Korine (Trash Humpers, Spring Breakers) left a home video out in the sun. The rhythm is fast and slap-happy. There are plenty of good punchlines for audiences willing to go along with it.

It’s refreshing to see Knoxville’s shtick redirected by Termaine, from reality-TV dross milked to death in Jackass to Borat-style pranksterism. You wouldn’t exactly call Bad Grandpa a measured reveal of a complicated personality, but a surprisingly strong sense of character lies at the heart of it.

Zisman is a preposterously inauthentic creation, but something rings oddly true of his foils and follies. In this sporadically hilarious off-colour comedy, stupid, misogynistic America is skewered by a paradoxical creation: an actor young and reckless enough to raise hell and a character old enough to know better.

This article was first published on Crikey’s Daily Review.

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