Everyone likes a little patch of space to call their own. Peter is no different.
Sure, he might’ve just entered middle school and be a decade or two from a mortgage, but does it matter? His room is his castle, and within its sunny confines he’s practically lord and master. Well, until his mom tells him to clean the place up, that is.
But now, Peter’s sovereign territory is being usurped. And the invader is … wrinkly.
It’s not that Peter’s Grandpa Ed is a bad guy. Peter loves him. But it was easier to love Grandpa when he lived two hours away.
But ever since Grandma died, Grandpa Ed’s been having a tough time. He can’t get the hang of these self-checkout lines. He’s not supposed to drive, but he does so anyway—and sometimes hits his own mailbox in the process. And even when he’s ensconced safely at home, Grandpa spends most of his time listening to music and staring out the window, remembering better days.
Peter gets all that, sure. He understands why Mom might’ve been worried about the guy. But drag Grandpa across town to live with them? A little drastic, don’t you think? And give him Peter’s room? Force Peter to live in the attic, with all the mice and bats and, who knows, wolves that might call the place home, too?
“We’re a family,” Mom tells him. “And we make sacrifices for each other.”
“Sometimes very big sacrifices,” Peter’s dad says, casting something of a stink eye in Mom’s direction.
But it’s not fair. It’s not right. Great Britain didn’t stand for such shenanigans when Argentina tried to take over the Falkland Islands. Why should Peter?
So Peter slips a declaration of hostilities underneath his—I mean, his grandpa’s—door. “When one person steals another person’s bedroom, there is no other choice but war,” the missive reads. Peter signs it “Secret Warrior.”
Grandpa Ed reads the paper. He scowls a bit. “Nice handwriting,” he mutters and moves on with his evening. He understands Peter’s frustration. The kid’s probably just joking, right?
Because if Peter’s not … well, he better watch out. Grandpa knows a thing or two about war.
It’s not just Peter who struggles with this new member of the household. It’s an adjustment for everyone. Some, like Peter’s Christmas-crazy sister, Jennifer, is thrilled to have a new playmate in the house. But Arthur, Peter’s dad, welcomes his father-in-law with fear and trembling. He and Ed have never gotten along very well.
But we see evidence that their relationship is turning a corner. Ed admits that he shouldn’t have been so hard on Arthur when he and Ed’s daughter, Sally, were dating. And when he sees his architect son-in-law sketching out a submission for a library extension (something quite different from the big-box stories he typically designs), he praises and encourages him.
He passes on some helpful tips when Sally struggles with the boyfriend of her eldest daughter (Mia), too. It takes some time for Sally to accept that advice (and some parents may argue that she shouldn’t accept it), but the movie suggests that taking a more tolerant tack with Mia’s beau will help preserve Sally’s relationship with Mia.
As for the central conflict: Grandpa and Peter’s relationship obviously is under some strain in the movie. And certainly, much of what they do to each other should never be done to anyone. But underneath it all, both clearly care for each other. Grandpa often holds out olive branches to Peter in an effort to stop or, at least, ratchet down hostilities, but in the end he admits he’s more culpable in the chaos than Peter. (He is, after all, the adult here.) And through their bitter household war, Grandpa tries to teach Pete something about real war, too: It’s a horrible, painful thing that always seems to escalate.
I don’t think we need a spoiler warning to say that Peter and Grandpa do finally find peace with each other. And while Grandpa is right—war is never a good thing—the war gave Peter an opportunity to see facets in his grandfather that he never saw before. And Grandpa got something out of it, too: In all his plotting and planning, he admits that the war “helped me get over the sadness of your grandmother.”
Little Jennifer, as mentioned, loves Christmas—so much so that she is the subject of a Christmas-themed birthday party. But the Christmas we see here is almost entirely secular, filled with trees and Santas and snow, without an obvious mention of Jesus anywhere.
A funeral takes place at a church.
Mia and her boyfriend, Russell, get caught twice making out by her disapproving mother. Once Mom walks in as they quickly separate themselves on the couch. (He’s not even supposed to be in the house without a chaperone, Sally reminds them.) The second time, the two steal off to Mia’s bedroom. They’re interrupted before things apparently go too far, but Russell’s shirt is unbuttoned down to his stomach.
Mia and Russell study together sometimes. “Studying means studying, right?” Arthur asks. “It’s not slang for something else?” Sally suspects that, when Mia claims to be going to someone else’s house to study, she’s actually secretly seeing Russell.
Danny, one of Grandpa Ed’s senior citizen friends, still considers himself quite the lady’s man. As he, Ed and another friend (Jerry) walk through a park, Danny ogles passing female joggers and confesses that yoga pants might eventually be the death of him. He brags that he’s quite the catch (given that he has a full pension and all), and at a funeral, he even hits on the grieving widow. (He suggests to her that, since she just lost her husband, she probably needs a ride home.)
Some of Peter’s friends are interested in the opposite sex, too. When one of them overhears that a chair might be booby-trapped, he excitedly says, “did someone say boobies?”
We hear about Ed’s longtime marriage, and we see that he still misses his dead wife dearly. But he seems ready to move on by the end of the movie, and he gives a date a quick kiss.
As a result of Peter’s hijinks, Ed repeatedly exposes himself to Arthur, leading to much screaming and embarrassment from the both of them. (In one instance, we see a bit of Grandpa Ed’s behind.)
You could think of The War With Grandpa as a sort of familial Home Alone movie. The story is filled with pranks and pratfalls and physical comedy aplenty—but sometimes, this war can still look pretty painful.
For instance: A prank backfires a bit, leading Peter to get beaten up by the school bully. (We don’t see the attack, but Peter comes home with a bloody nose and tells Grandpa that he was punched in the face.)
Combatants slide off rooftops, fall through doorways, collapse on floors (due to suddenly faulty furniture) and experience all manner of minor injuries. Someone’s shot high into the air via a tampered chair and thuds lifelessly to the ground. (Someone initially thinks he’s dead, but the victim is just dazed.) A guy goes to the hospital to be treated for some cuts and sprains caused by a falling tree. (The tree destroys a great deal of property, by the way.) A kid is dumped into a trash bin. Snakes are let loose, causing havoc. Someone gets a face full of coffee thrown at him. Sally tackles someone and is ready to punch him in the face when she reconsiders. A supermarket supervisor is attacked by a bevy of senior citizens throwing food. (One launches a yogurt container like a grenade.) Ed runs over his own mailbox. Someone slips on marbles that fall on the floor.
A vicious game of dodgeball culminates in several participants feeling a bit bruised and woozy. Several were hit in both the head and nether-regions—both expressly (and descriptively) said to be off-limits before the game. (Someone loses his false teeth in the scrum, and he spends a good part of the match chasing after them.) Peter tells his mother that if he sleeps outside, he could get eaten by a bear. We see a nature show with hungry insects, um, sating their appetites. A car window is broken. A virtual castle is destroyed. A tree catches on fire. Someone’s hit on the back of her head with a drone. A guy falls off a one-wheeled skateboard.
Peter worries that he might’ve taken the “war” too far, when Grandpa picks up Peter in a strange black car and tells the driver to take him to a place unknown. “You know I’m only 12, right?” Peter says. “That’s a lot of life left to live!”
Jennifer tell members of her family that “Shut up is a bad word.” But while we might want to sympathize with the little girl, we still hear this and a smattering of other swear words.
“A–,” “d–n,” “h—”, “crap” and “sucks” are all uttered. And while the film stays away from f- and s-words, a few words muttered under the breath can sound something like them. God’s name is also misused four times. We hear some crude slang referencing testicles.
Someone pours liquid from a flask into some eggnog. Wine is served.
Most of Peter’s and Grandpa’s stunts would snugly fall into this category, from replacing creamy cookie filling with toothpaste to switching out shaving cream with foam sealant (which, by the way, leaves a rash). Grandpa, for instance, switches out Peter’s “What I Did This Summer” essay with one of his own creation—which included Peter supposedly smelling “like a monkey’s butt” and learning how to freeze his own flatulence. (We won’t detail everything here, but you get the idea.) A great deal of precious personal property is destroyed in the process.
We also hear about food fungus and dirty underwear, and one of Peter’s friends seem to want to talk about diarrhea more than you’d like. Peter says that his turtles like their incredibly filthy, algae-covered tank, because “it gives them privacy.” Peter’s friends speculate whether a suspicious mound of brown is a bit of leftover Snickers bar or something else.
Peter and Grandpa fish in a pond where it’s illegal to do so. Though they didn’t know they were breaking the law, they flee from the warden when he comes to try to cite them.
“That was so cool!” Peter exclaims when they get away.
“Yeah, it was,” Grandpa says. Then thinks better of it and says, “But breaking the law is wrong. You know that, right?”
The last time most cinephiles remember seeing Robert DeNiro and Christopher Walken in a movie together, they were playing Russian roulette in Michael Cimino’s grim, R-rated The Deer Hunter. Uma Thurman is perhaps most famous as Quentin Tarantino’s favorite muse, shedding buckets of blood in the Kill Bill movies.
It’s a little surreal to see all three together in a PG-rated family comedy.
Still, there they are (playing Grandpa Ed, Jerry and Sally respectively), and they all seem to be having a nice time without piling up cinematic corpses. The only blood we see is from a bloody nose. The only explosion we witness is from the workings of a throne-like ejector seat.
Certainly, if you compare The War With Grandpa to The Deer Hunter and Kill Bill, it’s really family friendly. But if you compare it with other, better PG comedies, the results are seedier than you’d like.
The War With Grandpa is filled with all the slapstick pratfalls you’d expect and with some other elements you might not: Some hints of sexual content. Some bad language. An unfortunate reliance on bathroom humor. Even many of the pranks can feel jarring and mean—even that’s what folks will be paying to see. Even the sweet finale is undercut by what appears to be setup for a sequel, leaving viewers left a bit unsettled.
The War With Grandpa seems, ironically, at war with its own rating. It wanted to be a sweet, inoffensive, funny family movie—and it almost made it. But like a character from a grim war movie, it took a couple of wrong turns in the jungle.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.