Stop Snickering at Bad Grandpa’s Oscar Nomination. It Deserves to Win.

Slate's Culture Blog
Jan. 16 2014 3:58 PM

Bad Grandpa Deserves an Oscar

Johnny Knoxville and Jackson Nicoll in Bad Grandpa.
Stop snickering at Bad Grandpa's Oscar nomination. It deserves to win.

Photo by Sean Cliver/Paramount Pictures Corporation

This morning, the wags made great hay on Twitter about the second-most-baffling Oscar nomination, the Best Makeup and Hairstyling nod for Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa. But those who scoff at the nomination ought to reconsider. Sure, though I liked it a lot, Bad Grandpa isn’t a masterpiece. But not only does the movie deserve its Oscar nomination—it ought to win, on degree of difficulty alone.

For Bad Grandpa, Stephen Prouty designed a remarkable makeup process for Johnny Knoxville that turned him into Irving Zisman, the misbehaving octogenarian whose public humiliations and outrages make up the film. (The closing credits reveal that Catherine Keener and Spike Jonze also got the old-age treatments during filming.) The ingenious makeup, which took hours to apply every morning, included silicon prosthetics and a realistic hairpiece, and had built-in sweat channels so Knoxville wouldn’t basically drown in his own perspiration. And it was all very convincing on the big screen.

But Prouty’s genius lies in the fact that it doesn’t matter that his makeup was convincing on the big screen. What mattered was whether Irving Zisman was convincing in the real world. Whether Irving was hitting on women, trying to ship his grandson across the country in a huge cardboard box, or suffering explosive diarrhea all over a restaurant wall, Prouty’s makeup had to stand up to inspection by actual civilians standing inches away from Johnny Knoxville. If the residents of Sacramento, Columbus, Chapel Hill, or the dozen other towns where Bad Grandpa filmed suspected Irving Zisman was a fake, the movie would be ruined.

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The makeup and the hair in the other two nominated films, Dallas Buyers Club and The Lone Ranger, were also quite impressive. But those movies, like every other movie that made this year’s shortlist (including, yes, American Hustle), are playing with a loaded deck. Flaws in makeup can be concealed on a traditional film—with retakes, with carefully-chosen camera angles, with lighting and framing and, if all else fails, a touch of CGI. (You never know where it happened!) But there’s no other movie this year whose makeup was put under as harsh a microscope as Bad Grandpa’s, and Prouty’s work held up. Just ask the people in that restaurant.

If they call Prouty’s name on Oscar night, I won’t scoff, and neither should you. View it as a reward for innovative hard work; view it as payback for the Academy’s traditional scorning of comedy; view it as a sop to Bad Grandpa producer Spike Jonze, who should’ve been nominated for Best Director for Her. But don’t call it a travesty. The next civilian Irving Zisman fools might just be you.

Dan Kois is a senior editor at Slate and a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine.