Adam Sandler is 50. Yes, the same man that has made a career out of cartoonishly immature behavior has officially entered the old man, get off my lawn stage of his career.
As a 20-something male, watching Adam Sandler movies was an integral part of growing up. It was a rite of passage to watch him tear up a dodgeball game against a bunch of 10-year-olds, beat up Bob Barker, or make jokes about old guys balls. But there’s a time in every young man’s life when he has to grow up. It’s a time when life becomes a little less carefree, optimism begins to wane, and your childhood idols become mortal.
Sure, watching that bulldog get wasted in Little Nicky or watching Sandler take on a bunch of monks in Anger Management was funny when I was 12. But with each passing year it gets just a little bit harder to laugh.
Sandler, on the other hand, refuses to grow up. Each new movie is painfully worse than the last. He clearly stopped trying around the turn of the century. Just take a look at this trendy matrix found on TheShiznit:
That bottom half is clearly way more crowded than the top half. Here’s the thing though. You can’t hate the guy. Are most of his movies crap? Yeah. Will I continue to watch them endlessly? You bet. There’s something about Sandler’s movies that turns us into masochists. And I’m here to defend him, dammit! In a post Jack and Jill world, I realize that this is an uphill battle. But hear me out on this one – Adam Sandler is legit.
Sandler’s movies have performed extremely well at the box office much to the chagrin of executives. This has earned him a certain amount of leeway when it comes time to make a movie. And make no mistake about it, Sandler is milking that cow. He has taken full advantage of his privilege by repeatedly employing his friends. Think about every movie in the Sandler-verse. There’s always at least three “that guy” actors that pop up and create a sense of familiarity.
There’s the up for anything guy.
The stoner guy.
The cross eyed guy.
And even the unintelligible hillbilly guy.
When Sandler launched Happy Madison Productions, he basically used it as a platform to keep his best friends employed. He’s even gone as far as making two full movies with zero plot so that he can hang out with his buddies on set all day.
You have to appreciate a man willing to tarnish his name out of loyalty to his friends. He’s single-handedly funded his entourage and launched their careers. In an alternate universe, Rob Schneider and Kevin James are probably playing out their movie plots as real life gigolos and mall cops.
The networks stopped caring long ago because Sandler is a cash cow. He’s basically been filming his vacations at the networks expense. Summer long shoot in Hawaii for 50 First Dates? Why not? Go on a safari with close friends for Blended? Screw it. Just throw in a couple of shameless plugs and the budget should pay for itself.
So yes, Sandler has taken some liberties with his position. The thing is, can you blame him? If a studio gave you a bucket full of cash with no oversight, would you A) try to make a well scripted, respected, and meaningful film or B) take the easy road, have a good time with your friends, and repeat the same tired retreads.
A, you say?
The thing is, Sandler has gone the A route! In his early years, Sandler’s movies were well loved by the public but also pretty well despised by critics. Here’s a sample of Roger Ebert’s review of The Waterboy.
It’s safe to say that Ebert had committed himself to a lifelong witch hunt in order to destroy Adam Sandler and everything for which he stands. But many of Ebert’s colleagues shared the same view. So you know what Sandler did? He took some risks to prove he had the chops to make a good film. Sandler took dramatic turns in the critically adored Punch Drunk Love and Reign Over Me. Surely, the American public rewarded their favorite leading man with impressive box office numbers.
That’s right. According to Box Office Mojo, those movies combined for less than $38 million. He went serious and you assholes rejected him! You think he likes signing on to a movie where he teams up with Q*Bert to battle Donkey Kong? Hell no! But what choice does he have? When he tries, we all lament the good ole’ days when he played a 30-year-old man going back to elementary school. America doesn’t want Sandler to go serious. We go to his movies to turn our collective brains off. Modern Sandler may not be the Sandler that we want, but he’s definitely the Sandler we deserve.
Let me be clear. Sandler’s movies have a special place in my heart. Watching him prance around and do the bull dance in Happy Gilmore was the pinnacle of my childhood. That’s why I will always watch his movies. Despite the sophomoric humor, his movies (particularly the early ones) are still entertaining.
Take Mr. Deeds for example. It’s an objectively bad movie littered with corny jokes about a simpleton trying to make his way in The Big Apple. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched it either due to cable programming or general self-loathing. You really begin to hate that movie after about 10 viewings, and by the time you reach viewing #20, you’re ready to go full Turturro on Sandler.
But there’s something magical that happens on viewing #25, or #37, or #112. It gets funny again! Maybe it’s a punch drunk haze. Maybe the jokes took a couple of tries to land. Maybe you finally sympathize with Steve Buscemi’s crazy eyes character.
Whatever it is, when the hilarity kicks in it’s like you’re 12-years-old all over again. 50 First Dates is on Comedy Central more than South Park and The Daily Show combined. I guarantee if you give it between 10 to 20 more tries the jokes about the walrus’s dong size or the androgynous aquarium worker will eventually land again. There’s something comforting about going back to the Sandler well. We get to remember him the way we want rather than face the man he has become. Whether it’s the slapstick Happy Gilmore, the charming Wedding Singer, or the unhinged Waterboy, peak Sandler will always be there for you on basic cable.
So accept Sandler, and his movies, for what they are. Familiar, lukewarm, and mildly pleasant. I’m not saying go out and see Pixels. (Jesus, what do you think of me?) I’m just saying you can still enjoy his peak 1995 to 2005 hits and not feel guilty. Please don’t blame him for creating the monstrosities that are Jack and Jill and Rob Schneider. In reality, those are monsters of our own creation. So when he turns 60 we can either look back at his decade of risk taking or his clear lack of trying. But Happy Gilmore will still be hilarious.