One of the biggest unexpected cinema casualties stemming from the global pandemic has been a near total lack of family films.
The War With Grandpa didn’t have a ton of competition, but its unbridled sense of fun and embracing its silly premise makes for one of the more enjoyable comedy movie experiences I’ve had all year.
After a mishap at the grocery store, widowed Ed (Robert De Niro, The Irishman) has no choice but to come live with his daughter, Sally (Uma Thurman, Imposters), and her family.
Sally’s daughters, the precocious Christmas-loving Jenny (Poppy Gagnon) and hormone-driven eldest daughter, Mia (Laura Marano, The Perfect Date), are fine with the new houseguest. Sally’s husband, Andrew (Rob Riggle, The Hangover) isn’t so sure, but their son, Peter (Oakes Fegley) is definitely not thrilled since he has to give up his room and move up to the attic.
Encouraged by his friends, Peter announces a war with his grandfather — complete with declaration — in order to get his room back.
This sets off an impressive level of ever escalating pranks. Some are harmless, but others are amazingly reckless and borderline dangerous. That’s assuming if viewers want to take any of the stunts seriously instead of just enjoying the ride Director Tim Hill (The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run) cleverly lays out.
Christopher Walken is on hand to deliver a trademark entertaining Christopher Walken supporting role as Ed’s best friend Jerry. Cheech Marin and Jane Seymour also join in on the fun as Ed’s backup to help him battle Peter and his pals.
De Niro has been busy the last decade in films of varying degrees of quality. He’s got a surprising knack for comedy and with the right material he’s proven to be very funny.
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Add this role in the win column. De Niro gets to flex his acting talent in a variety of ways from the tender hearted grandfather, a scheming tactician and occasionally spoofing some of his more iconic roles. Sometimes that can be a little cheesy, but in this case the nods are so subtle and inoffensive that it doesn’t feel like De Niro is winking at his legacy for the sake of a cheap laugh.
While lacking his co-star’s experience, Fegley holds his own making Peter more of a pesky rival than an annoying brat acting out because he can’t have his way. In a lot of ways Fegley has the more demanding role in winning over adults. Peter will likely prove relatable to younger viewers who feel they don’t have a say in how their lives are run, which is the common bond he shares with Ed.
Screenwriters Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember (Failure to Launch), probably could have leaned heavier into that theme, but since Robert Kimmel Smith’s book told the story from Peter’s perspective, Ed’s loss of a say wasn’t as essential.
It’s nice to see Thurman in a family comedy as she tends to take more serious roles. Thurman proves game for the physical comedy and was a lot of fun in this role of the mother trying to keep her household together. Riggle is usually encouraged to ham it up in his roles and playing Andrew more reserved makes the moments where he cuts loose far more effective.
The ending came off somewhat abrupt however. It will make sense if a sequel is released, but otherwise it threatens to upend the ideal conclusion.
It’s been way too long since I was just able to sit back and consistently enjoy a real laugh this year — and we all need it in 2020. Don’t look for this to be an Oscar contender and you’ll find The War With Grandpa to be a charming and funny comedy that the entire family can enjoy.
Rating: 9 out of 10
Photo Credit: 101 Studios