Monday, August 4, 2014

Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa (2013)

Johnny Knoxville in Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa
Photo Courtesy Paramount Pictures

1 Nomination, 0 Wins

Nomination: Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling: Stephen Prouty

Had Stephen Prouty won the Academy Award for his work on Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, it would have supplanted Three 6 Mafia's victory for the song "It's Hard Out Here For a Pimp" as the oddest victory in Oscars history.  Sadly, we missed out on this opportunity for true weirdness when the Academy gave the nod to Adruitha Lee and Robin Matthews for Dallas Buyers Club, the only "serious" film of the three nominees.

What is interesting about the makeup work in Bad Grandpa is that it is the only one of the three nominees, and one of the few films ever made, to have actual and tangible proof of the success of its makeup work.  Bad Grandpa is the type of fake documentary that puts a made-up character in the real world, and thus the reactions of everyone except the film's stars are genuine.  While we don't know how many of the people approached by Johnny Knoxville saw through his disguise, we know that at least several people were fooled by Prouty's makeup, even while standing just a few feet from Knoxville.

Yet despite its realism, Prouty's work was in no way deserving of the Oscar, and not just because of the moronic film of which it was a part.  While the work is technically impressive, there have been countless films that have successfully employed aging makeup, and Bad Grandpa doesn't push the form forward in any meaningful way.  While Knoxville's transformation was impressive, it doesn't compare to the transformation of Johnny Depp in The Lone Ranger or Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club.

At this point in my review, I am pretty proud of the fact that I have written three paragraphs and included just one reference to the lameness that is Bad Grandpa.  I don't see myself as one of the stuffy old critics unable to appreciate the juvenile humor of the film.  In fact, I am a member of the generation reared on Jackass, and I will gladly admit that I have often laughed at their stunts.  However, what is successful in a brief television show often is not successful in a feature film, and the humor from seeing a fake old man act grossly wears thin all too quickly.

I found myself thinking about Borat, a film that I loved with a similar premise: an actor plays a character who acts inappropriately in real-world situations, causing actual people to respond with horror.  I started to wonder how I could love Borat but hate Bad Grandpa.  Was it just that the jokes were funnier?  That seemed too simple.

The truth is, Bad Grandpa and Borat are very different films, despite their seeming similarities.  Borat is a complete joke, while Bad Grandpa is just a setup without a punchline.  What makes Borat so funny isn't just the ridiculous things he do, but the reactions that his behavior solicits.  The character of Borat is so disarming that the people Sacha Baron Cohen interacts with slowly begin to reveal who they truly are.  This moment, in which people show a side of their true selves to the camera, is where the best humor of Borat comes from.  Yes, his ridiculous questions to his driving instructor about women driving are funny.  But the punchline isn't Borat's questions, but the reveal of who the instructor really is through his response.  Bad Grandpa, on the other hand, finds little humor in the response.  Most of the people that Knoxville interacts with just look at him with horror or laugh uncomfortably.  Yes, Knoxville's behavior and dialogue is ridiculous and sometimes funny, but without a meaningful response, it's just a setup with no punchline.

It has been awhile since I've seen Borat, and if nothing else, I'm glad Bad Grandpa made me recall and appreciate that far superior film.

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