When Grandpa (Robert De Niro) begrudgingly moves in with his insistent daughter, Sally (Uma Thurman) and family, he’s given his 12-year-old grandson, Peter’s (Oakes Fegley) room. Peter gets bumped to the ratty, batty, dusty attic, and begins to stew. The family loves Grandpa, and shares an empty heart space with him, left too early by […]
When Grandpa (Robert De Niro) begrudgingly moves in with his insistent daughter, Sally (Uma Thurman) and family, he’s given his 12-year-old grandson, Peter’s (Oakes Fegley) room. Peter gets bumped to the ratty, batty, dusty attic, and begins to stew. The family loves Grandpa, and shares an empty heart space with him, left too early by Grandma. But near-sighted Peter is stubbornly determined to get his room back and lets Grandpa know it.
He officially declares war on Grandpa! At first, Grandpa patiently disregards the zigzagging remote control truck blaring rap music around his bed at 3 AM. Instead of retaliating, he’d rather stare out the window lifelessly, his late wife’s picture by his side. But when Grandpa’s prize jar of marbles ‘breaks’, spewing marbles, and ultimately Grandpa on the floor, Grandpa is in! Terms of engagement are signed; the war is on.
A retired, successful homebuilder, Grandpa is no dummy, just annoyed at the whirlwind of technology that replaces his favorite grocery store checker with a self checkout machine. Even irritated by a little fender bender here and there, Grandpa’s still got it and can deliver a prank as cunningly as Peter can. What ensues is a hilarious series of funny-only-in-the-movies pranks. I’d say, “Do not try this at home!” should be the subtitle to The War with Grandpa. Do not unscrew the hinges on Grandpa’s bedroom door. Do not push the Life Alert button while Grandpa is sleeping.
It’s plain to see ‘older’ doesn’t mean ‘old’ for Grandpa. And, fortunately, he has the support of his friends, soldiers of senectitude, Danny (Cheech Marin), Jerry (Christopher Walken), and Diane (Jane Seymour) who strut valiantly by his side in the fight against tween takeover. They are his generals, his advisers, and they don’t come in peace. Likewise, scenes involving Peter’s school friends are comedic, such as when his friend Steve (Isaac Kragten) is repeatedly embarrassed by his bossy big sister bearing things like his retainer and Snuggables underwear.
When pranks get a little prickly, Grandpa calls for an arbitration, with little sister, Jennifer (Poppy Gagnon) acting as mediator- until Peter storms out, discovering there was a cookie involved that tipped the scales of impartiality. Grandpa is patient. Calming his grandson, he suggests an armistice to guarantee Jennifer’s upcoming 5th birthday party will not be ruined by pranks of any kind. He and Peter shake on it, but there’s something in Peter’s eyes that betrays a villain. As what might be guessed, sister’s birthday cake in the face is just a side event as a chain reaction of balloons and bows mayhem takes over. Ultimately, the birthday disaster brings the family together as each, particularly Peter, realize what’s most important in life.
Although a little slapstick-ish at times, The War with Grandpa looks to deeper issues, such as the blanket labeling of senior citizens and the value of their life experience. A couple of times in the film, Grandpa has to deal with others labeling him a needy senior. For example, his overprotective daughter acts as his social director and a crew of fast moving paramedics ignore his attempts to communicate. For Peter, war with Grandpa finally creates a realization for him that war isn’t productive- that it can lead to a big, final bomb being dropped. He also discovers he loves Grandpa more than “the best room in the house”, and it’s Grandpa who’s important. Quite a few times we see the close-knit family looking out for each other, their love for each other trumping adversity.
Production values are super, convincingly pulling off some involved pranks. Acting, directing, and writing are superior; De Nero is as convincing of a rugged, loving Grandpa as he is a mafia member. In fact, a couple of times he pulls out the tough guy, black sunglasses character. Uma Thurman delivers a focused yet slightly funky performance, especially when she’s the unintended target of a few pranks. Christopher Walken adds his usual enjoyable, bizarre seasoning to his role as friend and warrior. The score serves the film, subtly highlighting the difference between Peter’s and Grandpa’s worlds. There are a few instances of sour language such as “hell” and “wise ass.” A couple of scenes are humorous overreactions to accidental pants-dropping, but nothing intensely offensive.
The War with Grandpa merits the Dove-approved Seal for Ages 12+.
The Dove Take:
The War with Grandpa delivers a funny, family-friendly movie carrying with it a number of good lessons regarding family loyalty, aging members, and the value of people versus the value of possessions.