Sonny (Harold Lloyd) was never a brave soul, and even when growing up he refused to fight back against the bullies who would steal his lunch. Now he's nineteen and just as meek and mild as he ever was, living with the Grandma (Anna Townsend) who raised him and has faith in his abilities even if he doesn't himself. Today he is making ice cream for Mildred (Mildred Davis), the girl he is enamoured of, but just as things are going well who should arrive but the local tough guy (Charles Stevenson) who pushes Sonny around and ends up tipping him down the well. Will he ever be able to stand up for himself?
After scores of two reelers, this was silent comedy star Harold Lloyd's first feature length movie, well, I say feature length, it was still barely an hour long. However, where it could have felt like three shorts joined together, the filmmakers (who included legendary comedy producer Hal Roach among those coming up with the script) showed more ambition and worked out a story that had a proper beginning, middle and end that never flagged. Tastes in humour change, of course, and there's little in Grandma's Boy that will have many rolling around now, but Lloyd's plucky character carries the adventure nonetheless.
In fact, you could say they were laying on the protagonist's cowardice on a bit thick, but it's all the better to make his eventual success look more of an achievement. While there are fewer of the spectacular stunts that Lloyd would be best known for, physically he is impeccable, falling over, getting into scraps, and generally acting as his own worst enemy if there hadn't been others vying for that title. In the first half hour he is not only pushed down that well, but has his Sunday suit shrunk as a result which attracts hoots of laughter from the local girls (the humiliation!).
And as if that weren't bad enough, there's a great big tramp sitting in his garden. Grandma tells her grandson to get rid of him, but the tramp is a mean looking fellow and Sonny's efforts to persuade him to leave fail miserably - they will meet again, however. Originally this was supposed to be played straight, but it was decided to add the humorous aspect, as after all, that was what audiences expected from Lloyd - though it still operated well on a dramatic level. So when Sonny goes to see Mildred (Davis would become Lloyd's wife the following year) there are incidents with mothballs and kittens to contend with, and I like that the song Mildred plays at the piano only has the lyrics "I love you! I love you! I love you!" repeated over and over again.
But to the action, as there is quite a bit in the last half hour. Sonny and Mildred's evening is not only interrupted by the local bully, but a posse out looking for the tramp as well and Sonny is recruited against his wishes to assist in finding him. But his weaker nature gets the better of him and he ends up running home, and straight under the covers of his bed (pausing briefly to say his prayers!) after barricading the door. It is then that Grandma steps in, giving him an "amulet" that she claims offered his grandfather magic powers of bravery: Sonny falls for it, and soon is out tracking the tramp, providing the highlight of the film when he singlehandedly captures him, loses him, then recaptures him in an elaborate chase that features some inspired business with a car. It speaks of the times that Lloyd gains his self respect through brute force rather than his wits (see the final ten minutes as evidence), but as ever he's worth cheering for here.