Sunday, June 17, 2012

Adam Sandler vs. Adam Sandler movies

I've often said to myself, "I don't like Adam Sandler." Heck, I've often said it out loud, in so many words.

Thing is, it's not really true. I don't hate Adam Sandler himself. I hate Adam Sandler movies. And there's a big difference.

I actually think Sandler is a very talented guy. He's even made me laugh a few times. But you see, I'm one of those egghead critics who typically only likes Sandler when he gets ambitious and goes outside his comfort zone, making movies such as Punch-Drunk Love, Spanglish and Funny People. But those aren't Adam Sandler movies. They're Paul Thomas Anderson, James L. Brooks and Judd Apatow movies, respectively. Those are movies that star Adam Sandler.

On the other hand, "Adam Sandler movies" are movies produced and/or written by him, like Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, The Waterboy and Click. Most of these movies operate on the assumption that their audience has the intellect and taste of a 13-year-old, and they still think armpit farts are funny. Problem is, a lot of these people are older than 13. Physically, anyway. And these movies usually make armpits full of money. I even kinda liked a couple, including 50 First Dates and Anger Management, though I was probably laughing mainly at Jack Nicholson's slumming in the latter.

For a good long while, it seemed like this duality was fine. Sandler would crank out his dum-dum Happy Madison comedies, and then, every once in a while he would stretch and try something different. Unfortunately, when he has done so, he has A) turned off his mainstream fans and B) caught the auteurs on a strange day. Spanglish was an uneven effort from Brooks. Punch-Drunk Love was terminally weird even to non-Sandler devotees who saw it, and it's actually kind of avant-garde, even for Paul Thomas Anderson. And Sandler caught Apatow in an unusually somber mood when he decided to write a script about a comedian who is diagnosed with a terminal illness. Heck, Apatow even got Janusz Kaminski to shoot Funny People. That's a long way from Schindler's List.

I liked all three of those movies, but all of them underwhelmed at the box office. And so Sandler kept going back to the dum-dum well, cranking out the likes of I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry and the paradoxically titled Grown-Ups. As Charlton Heston once said, the problem with film as as art is that it's a business. The problem with films as a business is that it's an art form. Adam Sandler may embody that dilemma better than any other star.

But now, the rot seems to be setting in with the dum-dum comedies. Even his fans hated his last movie, Jack and Jill, which won the dubious honor of sweeping the Golden Razzies. His latest movie, That's My Boy, was a dud on its opening weekend.

So are fans getting tired of the Sandler shtick? It's hard to say. One could argue That's My Boy tanked because of the lingering stench of Jack and Jill, and that the R-rating kept undiscriminating teenagers out. But then again, Sandler's fans seem to be a forgiving lot. I remember how ater a screening of Little Nicky, someone thought it wasn't much good and said, "His movies are usually so well-written." That I remember that quote so well is remarkable, because I didnt hear it myself; a colleague repeated it to me.

So what's an unhappy Madison to do? Here's my advice. Since audiences seem to be tiring of the typical Sandler fare, he should not write his own scripts, and he should stay the hell away from Dennis Dugan. Make a comedy that's not trying too hard to be sober. I'm thinking of movies like The Wedding Crashers or Horrible Bosses - something funny but not crass, and most importantly, a comedy that laughs with people, not at them, like too many of his movies do. if Sandler does that, he may survive the sequel to Grown-Ups and actually become an adult himself.

1 comment:

Mike Leander said...

He's doing better than you