You know it’s never wise to engage in a war with your grandfather when your grandfather is Robert DeNiro.
Known for roles like Al Capone (The Untouchables), Travis Bickle (Taxi Driver) and Vito Corleone (The Godfather: Part II), DeNiro has built his career playing violent mobsters who will stop at nothing to crush his enemies. However, roles in Analyze This and Meet the Parents have also proven that he’s more than willing to joke about the characters for which he’s best known when given the chance. With The War with Grandpa, DeNiro again shows a willingness to have fun at his own expense in an unexpectedly charming family film that gets its laughs but never loses its heart.
In The War with Grandpa, DeNiro plays Ed, an aging widower who can no longer take care of himself. When his daughter Sally (Uma Thurman) invites him to live with her family, he resists, believing that he can continue on his own. When Ed finally relents and moves in with their family, Sally’s son Peter is forced to give up his room to his grandfather. Relegated to the attic, Peter vows revenge on the perceived intruder and schemes with his friends to get his grandfather to give up his room once more. After Ed refuses to give in, the two begin an all-out war for the space.
Directed by Tim Hill (Hop), The War with Grandpa is a surprisingly likeable film that will entertain children with its wild antics but should still manage to charm the adults in the room as well. Despite the fact that the film is ultimately forgettable, there really is a lot to like about it. In many ways, Grandpa feels like a throwback to some of the classic John Hughes films of the 90’s such as Home Alone or Dennis the Menace. Like Kevin Malone or Dennis Mitchell, Peter’s ‘declaration of war’ invariably leads to playful pranks to prove his worth in an attempt to be heard or valued by the adults in his life. However, unlike Hughes, War with Grandpa doesn’t demonize the adults by portraying them as unsympathetic monsters. In fact, for the most part, Ed is a caring, supportive grandfather who loves his family and genuinely wants to make things work, despite his flaws. As the grieving grandpa, DeNiro brings a compassion to his character that humanizes him, despite the chaotic circumstances.
Much will be made by reviewers who feel it’s strange (or even sad) to see icons like DeNiro, Thurman, and Christopher Walken pander to slapstick humour in this type of film. Personally, I don’t see the issue. All of these stars have poked fun at their violent roles in the past, with mixed results. (Let’s not forget that DeNiro starred in The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, even if he’d for like us to do so.) More importantly, The War with Grandpa often makes use of their talent and, to their credit, most of the cast are unexpectedly engaged with the material.
What’s most interesting about Grandpa though is the fact that it tries not to glorify the war itself. While Ed and Peter compete in escalating pranks that are played up for laughs, the effects of the pranks are not always funny. On several occasions, Ed and Peter discuss the fact that ‘no one wins in a war’ and ‘everyone gets hurt in the end’. Although nobody gets physically hurt in Grandpa, the emotional consequences and frustration leave marks on the family. In this way, it’s an interesting balance between slapstick humour and social commentary for a kid’s film, especially compared to those same John Hughes movies of the 90s that played up the violence as harmless in the end (or even glorified the child in doing so). In Grandpa, the ultimate goal is peace within the home and the film recognizes that no amount of pranks will achieve that.
Wild and ridiculous, The War with Grandpa is admittedly not going to be the film that people point to when they look over the highlights of DeNiro’s career. Even so, Grandpa is much more fun than expected and DeNiro ensures that the film has genuine heart in the right moments. With that in mind, this may be one War you want to get into.
The War with Grandpa is now available on VOD.