Does "Bad Grandpa" Cross the Line?

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"Bad Grandpa" 86-year-old Irving Zisman is on a journey across America with the most unlikely companion: his 8 year-old grandson, Billy.
Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures
November 6th, 2013

Does "Bad Grandpa" Cross the Line?

Director Jeff Tremaine takes the helm as director for the long-awaited "Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa." "Jackass" is a beloved television series that follows the antics and stunts of Johnny Knoxville and his loyal team of daredevils and goofballs. On the show, Knoxville and his friends engage in some of the most bizarre, dangerous, and downright disgusting stunts known to man. Many of those stunts take place in public and even involve pulling the wool over the eyes of unsuspecting citizens. One of the show's most popular sketch characters, Irving Zisman, is an eighty-six-year-old man played by Knoxville in aging makeup. Irving, affectionately known as "Bad Grandpa," has a penchant for getting into trouble and hitting on much younger women wherever he goes.

The film takes Zisman's character to new heights and gives him a storyline to follow. Zisman finds himself in charge of caring for his eight-year-old grandson, Billy. Billy is a precocious young boy whose deadbeat father abandoned him in the care of his grandfather. Tired of spending his golden years parenting his grandson, Zisman takes Billy on a cross-country trip to locate Billy's father. Along the way, they encounter real citizens who are unprepared for the wild and crude antics of Knoxville's character.

"Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa" is one of the most controversial films to debut in recent years, and for good reason. Zisman is a crude, foul-mouthed character who prides himself on taking the dignity out of old age. His character is constantly approaching women young enough to be his granddaughters and soliciting unwholesome attention from just about everyone he meets. Audiences either love Zisman's character or hate him, with very few gray areas in between. The film is all about Irving Zisman, so those who already love him will undoubtedly adore the film, while those who hate him will want to shy away.

One of the most controversial aspects of the film is that it stars Jackson Nicoll, a child actor of the same age as the character he portrays. Nicoll plays Zisman's grandson Billy, who accompanies his grandfather on a variety of inappropriate errands and shocking adventures. Part of the humor the film relies on is Zisman's utter inability to be a good parent and role model to his young and impressionable grandson. The director acknowledged that Nicoll stayed in character throughout the film's profanity-laden scenes. While some films shelter child stars from the elements they feel might be inappropriate for young viewers, Nicoll himself is in the midst of all the bawdy humor in "Bad Grandpa." From an encounter with male strippers to witnessing his grandfather make passes at various women on their trip, Nicoll's exposure to his grandfather's raunchy lifestyle is cringeworthy at times. However, that is exactly what Knoxville and Tremaine were going for.

All the inappropriate and outrageous things the "Jackass" cast does are a major part of the show's humor, and "Bad Grandpa" is no exception. Another source of controversy was the fact that Knoxville used real people in staged situations to get reactions for his film. The film uses the same candid camera techniques that the television series has become so famous for, creating another element that viewers will either love or hate. From crashing a funeral home to a supermarket encounter in which Billy mistakes a woman for a stripper, "Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa" is full of scenes that will either have your sides splitting with laughter or make you want to walk out of the theater.

Many critics have raised the question of whether the film goes too far with its raunchy humor and insensitive escapades. The answer, as most "Jackass" fans will tell you, is that it does go too far. The fact that they go too far and push the boundaries of what is appropriate in comedy is exactly why "Jackass" and Johnny Knoxville are so beloved by audiences. Knoxville and his crew seem to be more than fine with the fact that their craft is not for everyone. The intended audience will love the envelope-pushing humor found in "Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa," while others will find it offensive. For those who already love the "Jackass" series and enjoy Knoxville's elderly character with a taste for chaos, this film is sure to please. In a world filled with comedies that seem to come off of the same script, "Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa" is a refreshing change of pace if nothing else.