Here's some free advice for anyone looking to become a critic: be prepared to experience things you don't like. If you just write up reviews of things you like, you're a reviewer, not a critic. I know I've fallen into this trap, and I've touched on it before, in this very series, so I've been looking for an opportunity to encounter a film with which I'm unfamiliar but probably wouldn't be terribly interested in watching otherwise. When my co-worker insisted that we watch Grandma's Boy at our monthly Movie Night, and the film began as it meant to go on with stoner humor and jabs at gamer culture, I could feel myself smiling. Not at the humor, because there isn't much of that despite this being a comedy, no - I was smiling because I was watching an atrocious movie and I couldn't wait to tear it apart.
Grandma's Boy, released in 2006, has absolutely nothing to do with the pioneering feature-length comedy of the same name released back in 1922. The older film was about a cowardly man who needed help from his grandmother to overcome his fears and win over the affections of a girl. The 2006 film follows Alex, a single 35-year-old video games tester, as he is thrown out of his apartment because his roommate blew all of the rent money on Filipino hookers. He eventually moves in with his grandmother (thus making him a grandma's boy, get it? Get it?), charms the female middle manager brought in to help get the video game in production ready for release, and participates in antics related to getting stoned, making fun of the company's resident genius programmer and getting his grandma and her girlfriends into Antiques Roadshow. If this sounds disjointed in the narrative broad strokes, wait until you see the end result.
Let's get the praise out of the way so I can go into detail about what doesn't work in this deplorable movie. The two people whose efforts make this movie watchable are Doris Roberts, as Alex's grandma Lilly, and Linda Cardellini as Samantha, the middle management troubleshooter. Doris is a delight, one of the few members of the cast with real comedic experience, and her bits show a woman who loves her grandson and has learned to take everything in stride. Linda's Samantha isn't terribly well developed, but she's charming and also rolls well with the punches, on top of being the kind of middle manager anybody in a day job situation would be lucky to have. She's the kind of manager who knows well the sort of people she has working under her, and also is capable of interfacing with the superiors in the company on their level. She comes off as a true go-between interested in overall success, rather than being out for herself. I'd almost call her a positive female role-model, but given the sort of movie she's in, I guess I shouldn't be surprised when she gets just as high, drunk and wild as everybody else the audience is supposed to care about.
Having your manager look like this doesn't exactly hurt, either.
On the other side of things, we have Allan Covert as our "hero". It's not that his character, Alex, is unlikable. His jabs tend to be mostly delivered in a good-natured way, since people do need to get along with him otherwise the audience won't buy him as a protagonist. No, what bugs me about Alex is that his motivations are more clouded than the room in his dealer's basement. When I think of good comedies, I think of people who are in a situation where they want to do something better or make something of themselves. Sheriff Bart in Blazing Saddles is dedicated to succeeding when the white men in power would have him fail. Marty McFly in Back to the Future wants to fix his past to make a better future, since he's kinda stuck there anyway. Jason Nesmith in Galaxy Quest is looking for something meaningful, a fresh start after riding his washed-up sci-fi television career just about as far as he can. Adrian Cronauer in Good Morning Vietnam wants to support his fellow troops with the truth and great music, not the stuff his superiors consider "safe". In all of these situations, we have protagonists who are somewhat down on their luck, looking upwards and struggling to become more than they are. This doesn't have to fit every comedy for it to be successful, but at least Ferris Bueller and Jeff Lebowski have clear motivations. Ferris is having a great day off while helping his friends, and Jeff wants his rug back. It really tied the room together.
Alex in Grandma's Boy feels like someone tried to cross Ferris Bueller with Jeff Lebowski but the experiment went horribly, horribly wrong. Ferris was a kid who had everything together, a sense of ambition and poise, and used his smarts and charm to show his friends a fantastic time. Lebowski's a stoner, an unmotivated deadbeat, but this plays into the events that occur in his story and remains consistent throughout. Alex waffles back and forth between being an ambitious smart guy and a pothead slacker with little to no warning. He's trying to be a video game programmer instead of just a tester one minute, and saying "fuck it" and getting baked the next. If the writers wanted to do something with these shifts in tone and make Alex out to be some kind of manic depressive who needed to get a hold of the aimless direction his life had taken, that probably would have worked. Instead we have things working out for him mostly due to contrivance. Real quality storytelling there, Allen.
"Yeah, these assholes actually gave me money to make a movie! Can you believe it?"
Now, not all comedies should have meaning or messages or even necessarily need good characters. But if you're just going to be a movie about stoners or gamers or race relations or family matters, then in my opinion you should pick one and run with it. The Gamers got this, and was very funny to me as a result. This flick starts with some gamer humor and then meanders into stoner territory before it begins a rather annoying habit wandering back and forth. Waffling between spheres of humor like this just makes the whole thing shamble along like a Frankensteinian construction of Half-Baked and Hackers. Or, more to the point, it feels like Half-Baked bent Hackers over a railing and went to work on its nether regions with a variety of blunt and phallic objects.
The most glaring thing for me when it comes to Grandma's Boy's shortcomings, however, is its sense of time. For one thing, the sense of comedic timing necessary to good humor seems absent for most of the jokes. They either go on for too long or are delivered so poorly that you're lucky to elicit a bit of a chuckle. And speaking of going on too long, moreso than the comedic timing problem, this movie might only be 96 minutes but the way it is shot, written and acted, it feels quite a bit longer. Good comedy knows not to overstay its welcome. Grandma's Boy is the sort of comedy that crashes on your couch for six months, doesn't pay you any rent or grocery money, and leaves the whole place smelling like pot.
At least Doris never failed to class up the joint.
There are so many better comedies out there than Grandma's Boy. Any of the movies I've mentioned previously are much better investments of your time than this turd. The jerk programmer's neuroses are never fully explored or explained, existing instead so we can laugh at his weirdness and inability to interact with real people - though, in fairness, if I had his office setup I'd be tempted not to deal with my co-workers either. There's stuff that makes absolutely no sense, like Dante's obsession with exotic animals protecting his stash or what I like to call the Giant Space Party From Nowhere. And just when you think you couldn't be any more repulsed by the movie's failing attempts at humor that go on for way too long and ultimately aren't all hat funny, up pops David Spade to remind you he's still trying to be as funny as he was in Tommy Boy. Which he isn't. You might get a couple of laughs out of Grandma's Boy but ultimately it's the kind of sloppy, flaccid and almost mean-spirited comedy that Hollywood seems to think is what the slack-jawed popcorn-gobbling public wants to see. If nothing else, we see how humor in the style of Adam Sandler's movies turns out when Adam Sandler isn't directly involved. As much as some of his comedy falls flat from time to time, when we watch some of Sandler's roles we feel like he's got two things necessary to be a viable human being and a good humorist: a brain, and a heart. Grandma's Boy has neither.
Josh Loomis can't always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it's unclear if this week's film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain... IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.