7 February 2016

De Niro And The Meaning Of Life

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Do you believe in the power of karma? If so then you're a fucking idiot. I hate to be the bearer of obvious news, but there's no fairness to our existence. Do you want to know the ingredients of life? Simply take one giant God-free bowl of chaos and chance, make sure to throw in plenty of randomness, and then mix it all together with as much bullshit as you can get your hands on. The only way that you could possibly fall for the notion of karma would be if you failed to notice that every single person experiences nothing beyond a relentless cycle of ups and down. Hitler might have been a bad person but even he was lucky enough to get a girlfriend. Although of all the honeymoons I've heard of, I can't say I'm too jealous of them nipping outside the bunker to shoot each other in the fucking head. But you know, fuck it.. I haven't got a girlfriend, and beyond enjoying the occasional Mel Gibson movie, I've not done anything even remotely as bad as the holocaust. This all brings me nice and neatly to the subject of Robert De Niro.


Dirty Grandpa is the latest film to feature De Niro, the greatest actor of all time, and in many ways the film bears many similarities to that Michael Fassbender movie from a few years ago. Both are about a character that's obsessed with sex and both are equally deserving of the title Shame. You know how people get old and lose control of their bladder? Well that seems to be what's happened to De Niro, but instead of his pants, it's his legacy that he's accidentally pissing all over. Here he plays a man who decides to go out hunting for somebody to shag whilst dragging Zac Efron, his soon to be married grandson along for the ride. That's about it really, with the plot essentially being a skeleton to hang some dirty words and gross-out moments on. At one point, De Niro is caught tugging one out, which was a scene that haunted me as I returned home and, like a caged Jake La Motta, began punching the walls and screaming “why, why, why?!” In fact his character is actually introduced with the song 'Time In A Bottle' by Jim Croce and I couldn't help but think that if De Niro could put his time in a bottle, then drinking anything from about 1995 onwards would probably cause fucking dysentery.

I should also point out that I take literally no pleasure from being able to say any of this. As a terminally single geek with nothing to obsess over beyond my love of movies and my inevitably lonely death, De Niro is truly a hero of mine. In my humble opinion, there's not an actor alive that can come near to him at his best with Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and King Of Comedy, containing performances so perfect that you'd assume that they'd been milked straight out of God. As a result, seeing a film that's as terrible as Dirty Grandpa was a bit like visiting a close relative in prison. I'll never stop loving them, but I'm fucking ashamed of what they've gone and done. Not only that but he's not even right for the part. Pretty much all of the humour is meant to come from the shock that Efron feels when hearing his grandfather swear, but so fucking what? I've heard De Niro swear a million times. I've seen De Niro shoot the fingers off a pimp's hand before emptying the gun into the guy's face; I've seen him use a baseball bat to cave a man's head in at a dinner table, and I've seen him kick some bloke to death for telling Joe Pesci to go get his fucking shine box. If the only joke they have is the main character doing unexpectedly crude things then they should have grown some balls and cast somebody actually innocent and shocking like the reanimated corpse of Mickey fucking Rooney.

And don't get me wrong.. I'm not saying that the once great man should only do the low-paying and intense roles of his heyday. He's paid his dues, left his mark on cinema, and is under obligation to nobody... but if he wants to sell out, there are better ways to do it than appearing in non-stop shite like this. Grave robbing for example. I mean, just look at Robert Redford; like De Niro he was a hero of the seventies who now occasionally likes to show up in some slightly better-paying and mainstream films. However when Redford wants a few extra quid, he pops up in things like Captain America: Winter Soldier which was a big-budget, mainstream movie that was actually good. So my issue isn't that De Niro is selling out.. I mean, fuck me- he's been doing that for over twenty years at this point. It's just that the standard of film for which he's willing to exchange his dignity has just gotten so fucking low. Redford was cast in Winter Soldier so that the film could play with his association to political thrillers, however I'm not sure why Dirty Grandpa felt it needed De Niro, because it sure as fuck didn't make him act. So far I can only come up with one reason and that's to suddenly make those other crap films he's done seem a little better by comparison. If that was the intent then fair enough, but isn't that a bit like distracting somebody from how badly you've washed the dishes by setting the house on fire and then raping the family dog?

I mean, at one point we cut to De Niro on a karaoke stage and rapping with such embarrassing ineptitude that it almost plays out like a satirical sketch on modern culture by the KKK. However the point of the scene isn't to make fun of an old man that's failing to be hip with the kids, but is apparently a hero-moment as the character suddenly earns everybody's admiration. But of course he's probably going to be seen in a positive light despite this scene almost being as cringey as watching him toss off earlier. He's a straight white male which seems to be the only type of human that the film doesn't have a genocidal hatred towards. Woman only exist to hold men back, with Efron's future wife being a character that's so controlling and bitchy that you'd think she was thought up in the 1920's as a smear campaign against the suffragettes. The movie even delves slightly into misjudged sentiment at one point as De Niro explains that he wants to shag people because he wasn't able to sleep with his wife for the ten years that she was dying of cancer. Fucking tumour-riddled bitch! Then there's black people who only show up when the film needs either drug dealers or gangsters. Oh, and lets not forget the streak of homophobia that runs through Dirty Grandpa like a marathon organised by the Westboro Baptist Church.

In fact, I suppose that last aspect is the best example of why I fucking hated this movie so damn much. De Niro's character spends most of his time insulting a guy for being gay with the joke not being on the ignorance of the bigoted old man but the abuse he hurls instead. However in order for the film to show that it's actually all good fun, we see De Niro defend the guy later on in a fight. Because you know.. gay men can't defend themselves because they're gay.. which is basically as bad as being a woman. And to be fair, this guy probably couldn't defend himself because he's not so much a man that happens to be gay as he is the metaphorical embodiment of how a homophobe might view homosexuality. So it's not so much De Niro's abuse that bothers me as it is the fact that I'm meant to be enjoying it before being comforted by the film that it's okay to laugh because the walking gay cliché will be looked after in the end. The reason that this film transcends that line of being bad to being detestable is because despite every single vile and unjustified piece of shit thing that De Niro's character does, we're meant to be on his side every step of the way. I'm not on his side. I fucking hated him. De Niro isn't shaming himself because he gave up and decided to only do jobs for the money.. it's because beyond the cynical contempt for humanity, the only thing that this film thinks it has is its ability to shock. But the only shocking thing about it is that it stars a man that was once the greatest actor of all time. Is seeing De Niro act like a twat really meant to shock me? In 1972 John Waters made a film called Pink Flamingos in which we see a drag queen named Divine quite literally eat a lump of dog shit from the floor. Having seen Bad Grandpa, I kind of feel like I know what he went through.

This all brings us back to the notion of karma, the chaos of life, and the randomness of De Niro's fucking career. You know how idiots are always moaning that the film isn't as good as the book? Well that's what Dirty Grandpa is to me. I might not have liked it, but in the same way that they still have an unchanged copy of their book, I still have my DVD's of Goodfellas and Mean Streets. Life doesn't fuck you over because it's personal, but simply because life just fucks you over. As with De Niro's classics, I guess you've just got to be grateful for the good times and hope that we can all just hold on together to make it through the bad. Absurdism is the philosophical notion that explores the irony of looking for meaning in a meaningless universe, and the same applies here. How the fuck did De Niro end up making shite like this? I don't know. But if ever a child asks you why bad things happen to good people, then from now on you have the perfect explanation. Just sit them down, make them watch Taxi Driver and Dirty Grandpa on a double bill and simply answer, “Because nothing makes any fucking sense”. Thanks for reading and see you next time, motherfuckers. 



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