Adam Sandler: What the Hell Happened?
“I hate Adam Sandler movies.”
I used to get pissed off when I’d hear someone say that. First of all, it should be “Sandler’s movies,” not “Sandler movies.” Not that I’m a grammar Nazi, but come on! Second, what‘s not to like?
When pressed, most Sandler haters would reply with something along the lines of “his movies are stupid.” Of course they’re stupid. Most comedies are. But Sandler’s don’t pretend to be anything more. If you want something “intellectual,” go whack off to Vicky Cristina Barcelona. I prefer to laugh.
But after seeing the painfully unfunny trailers for Grown Ups earlier this year, something changed. The previews looked so downright depressing that I began to question my loyalty. That’s when it hit me. I hadn’t seen a Sandler movie in a theater since Punch Drunk Love, and that‘s not even a comedy. To complicate matters, I hadn’t even rented one of his films since then, and the few I’ve caught on cable have been awful. Looking back, it seems there wasn’t even a loyalty for me to question. As it turns out, I would rather whack off to Vicky Cristina Barcelona than sit through The Longest Yard. Jesus Christ! What the hell happened?
The Easy Answer: I Grew Up
I was in high school when Billy Madison came out. Now I’m over 30. I’ve got a wife, 19 kids, and my own reality show on TLC. I’ve become a responsible adult who spends his time working, changing diapers and watching shitty sitcoms (“Modern Family” is my fav). My tastes have matured. The fart jokes I used to find funny now seem childish. I no longer drink Natty Light, and I no longer like Adam Sandler’s films. Case closed.
But wait a minute! That can’t be right. I spend my days writing dick jokes and photoshopping tits onto Steve Buscemi. Just last week, one of my children almost drowned in the bathtub while I was stoned out of my mind watching “Tim and Eric: Awesome Show, Great Job!” (I defy you to find a more immature show that's not geared toward children). Hell, I even laughed out loud at Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo (A Happy Madison production). In my defense, I was wasted, but so help me God, I still laughed. Clearly, my tastes have not matured to the point where I can no longer appreciate stupid humor. So what the hell happened?
The Easier Answer: Sandler Got Old
I hate to bitch about a guy whose dickhead is more successful than I will ever be. After all, who in the hell am I to judge anyone? Well, right now I’m the guy who’s getting paid $12 to write this article about Adam Sandler, and you can’t write an accurate article about Adam Sandler without acknowledging that almost every comedy he’s made since The Wedding Singer has been a turd. And I don’t think that’s an accident.
Before The Wedding Singer, Sandler made Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore, arguably his funniest films. In fact, some might say they were his only truly funny movies. Both were filled with juvenile humor, but they also contained some hilariously absurd moments: sniper Steve Buscemi, seemingly dead clown, and the ghost of Abe Lincoln, just to name a few. More importantly, in both films, Sandler plays a character who, for lack of a better word, is an asshole. That’s not to say the characters weren’t likeable, but Billy and Happy were rude, selfish pricks. At the end of the film, they may have gotten the girl and shown minimal signs of self improvement, but they were still assholes, and that’s why we liked them.
Then came The Wedding Singer (we’ll go ahead and forget about Bulletproof). In the film, Sandler played a character who was a genuinely nice guy, not an obnoxious man-child. The role allowed him to branch out beyond his typical young-male audience and achieve mainstream success. I remember being slightly horrified upon hearing my mother talk about how much she liked the Adam Sandler movie she saw during a plane ride to visit my grandma. But she was right. It was a decent movie that could appeal to both young men and middle-aged women.
From that point on, you can see a dramatic shift in Sandler’s films. Sure, from time to time he’d still play a goofball character (Little Nicky, The Waterboy) or an asshole (Anger Management). But for the most part, Sandler’s movies have tried to appeal to women and, or families: 50 First Dates, Click, Big Daddy, etc. Even his character in Mr. Deeds was an all around nice-guy rube rather than a bull-headed prick. After The Wedding Singer, his core audience of childish douche bags was forced into the background in the name of box office returns. While the move has proved extremely profitable, the resulting films have been shit.
When it comes to comedies, critical reception can often be ignored. But when 50 First Dates is one of your highest rated films on Rotten Tomatoes (44% positive), there’s a problem. Friggen MacGruber (48%) has a better rating than Grown Ups (9%) Chuck and Larry (14%) and Bedtime Stories (24%) combined. Yeah, MacGruber! And yes, Funny People (67%) is the exception, but you could stick Larry the Cable Guy in an Apatow film and it would at least clear 50%.
So Did I Grow Up, or Did He Grow Old?
While the real answer is probably somewhere in between, the negative reception of Sandler’s films is due mostly to the fact that Sandler turned away from his core audience. Sure, the juvenile humor is still there, but rather than pushing it to the absurd, it gets tapered with romantic comedy clichés and forced family fun.
If anything, nostalgia caused people, myself included, to defend his films as they became more and more indefensible. The fact that Sandler himself seems to be a genuinely nice guy who takes care of his friends (Rob Schneider) only adds to his likeability. That’s why it’s nice to see him show up in a decent movie like Funny People. But anyone who claims that his waning popularity is simply a matter of his audience getting older is missing the point. Most of us would still pay to see something as stupid and childish as Billy Madison, as long as it was funny. But just because we’ve grown up doesn’t mean we’ll sit through f*cking Grown Ups.