Let's face it. You're either an Adam Sandler fan or you're not.
I am an Adam Sandler fan, though I'll confess it's been a bit challenging as of late to fully embrace a guy who seems to have been desperately struggling to figure out how to handle his cinematic life now that he's reached an age where his juvenile schoolboy routine of years past would come off more as creepy than comical. It wasn't until Sandler's Jack & Jill that I had ever actually trashed a Sandler film, though I've certainly appreciated some more than others. Heck, I've even embraced his occasional forays into more dramatic roles like Punch-Drunk Love, Reign Over Me, and Funny People. Jack & Jill was just plain desperately unfunny, and it's fairly well known that I despised what felt like a meanspirited and creepy humor that came in Sandler's next film, That's My Boy!
As one of the few film critics who would acknowledge an appreciation for Grown Ups 2, I found myself hopeful after that film that Sandler was working his way back into serving up the humor that his fans love while also returning to the heart-tinged storylines.
Here's what I've appreciated about Sandler from his earliest films - As juvenile as his humor and as formulaic as is his comedy, a Sandler film for me has come to represent a weaving together of silliness with reckless abandon, lovable characters that society might call losers, storylines that drive home clear and simple positive messages, and ample doses of absolute nonsense.
When I go to an Adam Sandler film, I expect to laugh a lot while also feeling something and having more than one "aw shucks" moment.
Welcome back, Adam Sandler.
While I'm not completely sure that Sandler actually went away, Blended is a return to the form of Sandler that America has long known and loved unless you don't particularly love Sandler's brand of humor. I laughed a lot in Blended, enjoyed the characters immensely and, I'll admit it, I even shed a tear or two.
It's likely not coincidental that this is Sandler's third collaboration with Drew Barrymore, whose presence lights up the screen and with which Sandler is clearly relaxing and having a good time. The first two Sandler/Barrymore collaborations were winners, The Wedding Singer and 50 First Dates. While it would be a stretch to call Blended a sign of a maturing Sandler or Barrymore, it is a film that allows both performers to show off their strengths while also facing the reality that both performers are also now married parents who need characters with at least some basis in reality.
In this case, Jim Friedman (Sandler) and Lauren Reynolds (Barrymore) are two single parents who've obviously avoided the dating scene until finally meeting each other as a blind date in, of all places, a Hooters Restaurant. As one might expect, the date doesn't exactly go well and the two go on their merry way only to run into each other again, now with their children in tow, at a safari resort in South Africa.
You don't really go to an Adam Sandler film looking for reality, do you?
The long and short of it is that Lauren's bestie was dating Sandler's boss, who just happened to be owner of the Dick's Sporting Goods stores (No product placement there, eh?). The two break up and, of course, the stars align for Friedman and his three kids Hillary (Bella Thorne), the obligatory tomboy of the flick, the much more sensitive Espn (Emma Fuhrmann, who really is named after the network, and the ridiculously adorable Lou (Alyvia Alyn Lind) to meet up with Lauren and her two boys, the perpetually horny Brendan (Braxton Beckham) and the ADHD posterboy Tyler (Kyle Red Silverstein).
It's not rocket science to figure out everything that's going to unfold over the course of Blended's too long running time. Jim and Lauren will initially resist each other while being drawn to each other's children. There will be moments of absolutely juvenile humor often either immediately preceded or followed by brief heartwarming moments. You will get ridiculously inappropriate scenes followed by heartwarming explanations for those scenes. You will get transitional scenes that are almost completely irrelevant to the storyline, for example the ongoing presence of a South African harmony group called Thathoo (played by real life members of the South African a cappella group Junior Mambazo) fronted by an absolutely hilarious Terry Crews. You will also, of course, have an abundance of supporting characters whose presence is intended almost exclusively to provide a scene or two of laughs and featuring both Sandler regulars and newbies such as Kevin Nealon, Shaquille O'Neal, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Joel McHale, Jessica Lowe, Allen Covert, members of the Sandler clan and others.
As has always been true, Sandler and Barrymore do have a wonderful and warm chemistry and it's truly their likability that makes Blended a far better film than most film critics are going to be willing to admit.
I don't care.
No, really. I don't. I don't call Blended a guilty pleasure because I don't feel guilty that I found it to be the kind of Sandler film that I completely adore and always enjoy. While the film ran a bit longer than necessary at just shy of two hours, Blended had the audience laughing and had an abundance of feel good moments that will leave you feeling better leaving the theater than when you went in. As has become custom for Sandler, there's also a sweet little ditty that accompanies the closing credits with credits going to the Sandler family.
Again, I loved it.
If you've never cared for a Sandler film in your life, then Blended isn't going to change your mind. If, however, you've long been a fan of Sandler and you adored his previous Barrymore collaborations then this is a film you won't want to miss.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic