Lose your way. Find your manhood.
Young, buttoned-up, conservative lawyer Jason Kelly (Zac Efron) is in the final stages of preparation for a picture-perfect wedding to his seemingly ideal fiancée Meredith Goldstein (Julianne Hough) when Jason’s beloved paternal grandmother passes. Though it’s the week before his big day, everyone’s concerned for Grandpa Dick (Robert De Niro), suddenly alone for the first time after 40 years of marriage.
After the funeral, Dick asks if Jason can drive him to Florida the following day, where he can grieve in the solace of their beloved getaway home. Knowing that Dick’s license has been suspended – and with the promise that he’ll be back the next day – Jason reluctantly agrees.
Once the trip begins, Grandpa’s true agenda emerges and it’s decidedly not one of him moping silently in a car. Between the golf detour, the cigar chomping, hard-drinking, and the Daytona Beach detour that goes completely off the rails, Jason quickly learns that the grandpa he knows and loves is not exactly the man he thought he was. Yet the pair’s crazy, debauched and revealing road trip will also help Jason come to grips with who he is too, which may be an even bigger surprise. With these very different blood relatives, learning something about how life should be lived turns out to be a two-way street.
Dirty Grandpa is an American comedy film directed by Dan Mazer and written by John Philips. The film stars Robert De Niro, Zac Efron, Zoey Deutch, and Aubrey Plaza. Filming began on January 5, 2015 in Atlanta. It released on January 22, 2016.
For screenwriter John M. Phillips, the storyline for Dirty Grandpa came after an eye-opening night on the town with his father where he witnessed his dad’s surprisingly stellar skills with the ladies. “We began talking to some women and my dad was charming, funny and just crushed it, I couldn’t believe it. He made a passing joke that he would get back out there pretty quickly should my mother pass away and I was shocked to see that side of him.
That experience mixed with some ideas I held on to from my Upright Citizens Brigade days spawned this story and some of the characters,” he explains.
The resulting script was an uproarious comedy with heart that offered an uncensored perspective on adulthood, aging and sexuality, all within a story that ultimately celebrates our need to break free occasionally and live life to the fullest. The script eventually made its way to the desk of producer Barry Josephson, who immediately recognized the universal appeal of the story and its comedic brilliance.
“I read Dirty Grandpa as a spec script and couldn’t stop laughing,” recalls Josephson. “What struck me was John Phillips’ original comedy voice. This writer is a massive talent. He’s not afraid to really go there, and then allow the characters to recover from going there! But on second read I realized that the story really was about an emotional journey, and that the relationship between Dick and Jason felt unique. I especially related to skipping a generation, where perhaps your grandparent has more influence, and more pure love, than that of a parent.”
Filling Out the Family Tree
As Dick and Jason embark on their seemingly innocent overnight trip to Florida, Jason begins to notice that Grandpa isn’t quite himself. Expecting to accompany a grieving widower for a brief trip of reflection and inter-generational male bonding, Jason discovers a foul-mouthed, scotch-drinking horndog with only one objective: sex, and lots of it. Dick had been a faithful, loving and doting husband to his wife for over forty years, but after losing her, he can only live life forward – Dick’s ready to get busy. This is his moment to live it up and throw it down, but he needs a wingman.
During the writing process, Phillips had only one actor in mind for the role of Dick Kelly: the incomparable Robert De Niro, whom Phillips never in a million years imagined would be willing to take on the provocative role. “It’s crazy because when I wrote the script I was living in New York and always only had Robert De Niro in mind, who has that perfect blend of comedic timing and imperiousness that the character needed. He also had to be slightly terrifying and really smart, and De Niro certainly embodies all of those qualities,” explains Phillips.
On paper, Jason Kelly is living the American dream. Groomed from a young age by his loving yet controlling father David, Jason is well on his way to having it all: a successful career as a corporate lawyer and an upcoming wedding to his perfect mate, Meredith. It all fits right into the ideal life plan. A daughter of one of the firm’s partners, Meredith is a beautiful and equally as successful woman who sees Jason as meeting all her life partner qualifications. But while things look heavenly on the surface, Jason is proof that things aren’t always as they seem. Between his father’s meddling and Meredith’s relentless need for control, Jason can’t remember the last time he made a decision for himself.
For the role of Jason, Dick’s conservative and uptight grandson tricked into serving as co-pilot to Dick’s last effort at youth-grabbing wish fulfillment, the script was sent to actor Zac Efron, whose recent foray into the comedy realm with Neighbors proved to be a huge success. Efron found the script shocking, smart, and hilarious and was all-in, particularly when presented with the possibility of working with the incomparable Robert De Niro.
“It’s every guy’s dream to work with Bob De Niro,” says Efron. “I was really curious how we would work together. He’s been doing this for so long, he’s such an icon, yet I don’t think I’ve ever seen him do a role like this. The day I heard this could potentially happen, every antenna went up. It was like, ‘Could I even work with this guy?’ Our histories are so different! There’s Robert De Niro, Taxi Driver, and then there’s me, High School Musical!”
Efron continues, “being such a big fan, it was an opportunity to learn from one of the absolute greatest actors that’s ever lived. He’s such a presence on camera – formidable and dramatic and real – that when he applies all those talents and skill to comedy, the screen just blows up. I would break constantly because the stuff that would come out of his mouth was insane. Then the movie ended up being really cool, so it was a double win.”
With the two leads actors in place, it was paramount to find a director who had an innate sense of what goes into making great comedy. The script ended up in the hands of Dan Mazer, a seasoned creative force who wrote and produced the ground-breaking comedies Borat and Bruno with long-time collaborator Sacha Baron Cohen. Though not typically open to directing material he didn’t write himself, Mazer was blown away by the script and agreed to meet with the producers and writer John M. Phillips. “It’s pretty rare that you get a script that outrageously funny with a great story that comes alive on the page, and we seemed to have a shared vision for the film. When I heard who was attached, I thought it was incredible and was immediately in,” recalls Mazer.
Mazer saw plenty of comedy in the story of Dick, a loose cannon, and Jason, an uptight guy, enduring a series of misadventures, but he was also taken by the road to enlightenment Dick’s grandson Jason takes. “On paper Jason has the perfect existence that is fundamentally not him,” explains director Dan Mazer. “He wanted to be a photographer but has somehow been waylaid into a career as a lawyer with a fiancé who’s very beautiful and on the surface of things perfect for him, but really isn’t. His journey is about knowing that there are other options and rediscovering his true self.”
As with all road trip films, chemistry between actors is essential. When filming commenced, it became quickly apparent that De Niro and Efron were ready to have fun with the material and came ready to play. Recalls producer Bill Block, “It was wonderful to see Zac and Bob laughing after and sometimes during a take. They shared a warmth, camaraderie and mutual respect playing this together.”
There was more to it than just finding the laughs in every situation, however. Adds producer Barry Josephson, “Zac and Bob both knew, with all the comedy on the page, they needed to ground the characters emotionally. The chemistry was real. Individually and together with Dan Mazer, they worked on each other’s characters and truly enjoyed going at each other. It was like a great boxing match with admiration, where the boxers hug it out at the end.”
For an actor somewhat new to the world of comedy, any questions concerning Efron’s comfort and skill within the genre were quickly put at bay. “I was an admirer beforehand but am now exponentially more impressed with his abilities as an actor, as a comedian. His versatility, depth and authenticity are frankly incredible,” comments Mazer. “He’s got a difficult job because a lot of the laughs on paper go to Dick but he plays the straight man with such incredible ease and skill and keeps it fresh and makes it so much funnier than it is on the page.”
Directed by: Dan Mazer
Starring: Zac Efron, Robert De Niro, Zoey Deutch, Julianne Hough, Aubrey Plaza, Eugenia Kuzmina, Dermot Mulroney, Mo Collins
Screenplay by: John Phillips
Production Design by: William Arnold
Cinematography by: Eric Alan Edwards
Film Editing by: Anne McCabe
Costume Design by: Christie Wittenborn
Set Decoration by: David Smith
Art Direction by: Jeremy Woolsey
Music by: Michael Andrews
MPAA Rating: R for crude sexual content throughout, graphic nudity, and for language and drug use.
Studio: Lionsgate Films
Release Date: January 22, 2016