As the credits rolled on “The War with Grandpa,” I couldn’t help but smile.
I enjoyed the antics between Robert De Niro, who plays Ed, and his grandson, Peter (Oakes Fegley). The antics rival “Home Alone” in their physicality, and the film is probably something that Disney would have made in the 1990s. That wasn’t it.
De Niro elevates any project he’s on. That’s not to take away from Uma Thurman’s schticky performance as Sally, Ed’s daughter. And, as De Niro enters his twilight years, he reminds us that he still has a lot of energy left to give on the screen. We’re all the luckier for that too. Fegley’s Peter enters into a ‘war’ game when his grandfather invades his turf, forcing Peter to move into the attic. “Nice handwriting,” remarks Ed following a moment where a demand letter is snuck under the door, alerting Ed to the impending mélange.
The way the script by Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember, based on Robert Kimmel Smith’s novel of the same name, handles their brewing feud, while allowing the family to remain blissfully unaware, is brilliant. Sally gets to bear some of the brunt of their shenanigans, while the usual funnyman Rob Riggle stands pat as the stick-in-the-mud dad who wants to have fun, but isn’t allowed to; a running gag regarding chainsaws is humorous.
The duo’s script breaks the war up with Peter’s entrance into sixth grade, paralleling Ed’s injection into the Decker household; neither one wants the change that’s in front of them, but they’ll both go to great lengths to defend their positions, even if they’re indefensible. And, they have their clique of friends to keep them protected.
Director Tim Hill injects a lot of good-natured humor that pits the “old folks” against the “young folks,” introducing a who’s who of actors, including Cheech Marin, Jane Seymour, and Christopher Walken.
The film does struggle with the certainty of predictability. There’s an homage to “The Godfather” and “Taxi Driver” that brings chuckles. It’s the humanity in the story, the courage to bring the family together, even if every responsible, adult character in the film is a stick-in-the-mud.
“The War with Grandpa” was initially supposed to be released through The Weinstein Company’s Dimension label in 2018. The producers bought back their rights from TWC, allowing 101 Studios to put it into theatres. Unlike “The Current War,” “The War with Grandpa” doesn’t feel like it has been as heavily edited as its predecessor.
Why am I mentioning the film’s production history, especially given that it stars Robert De Niro?
Despite the predictable nature of the story, the familiar yet fun natured poking at age, and what fuddy-duddies we’ve become as a society, there was still a level class to the film that I couldn’t explain, even with Mr. De Niro’s presence. The feeling of style, of being elevated beyond an ordinary comedy came from Tim Hill’s adept direction. Hill’s treatment of the script, of the actors, the cinematography, and the film’s central themes all trace back to a similar style used by his uncle, George Roy Hill.
There’s a good feeling coming out of “The War with Grandpa,” and despite some misgivings of familiarity about the film, it is a good time at the movies.
- The War with Grandpa