Grown Ups is a reminder of why Adam Sandler remains one of my most desired interviews at The Independent Critic.
How could a film writer known to prefer low-budget indies, arthouse rarities and non-market friendly cinematic fodder go for the arguably formulaic, paint-by-numbers comedic stylings of Adam Sandler?
Adam Sandler is not a guilty pleasure. I feel zero guilt for enjoying the guy's films, especially when they end up like his latest film, Grown Ups, a romp featuring Sandler and his usual buddies who gather together at a lakeside cabin for the funeral of their beloved childhood basketball coach, who'd led the group to a championship when they were 12-year-olds.
Grown Ups features virtually everything we've come to expect from an Adam Sandler film.
Formulaic? Absolutely. In Grown Ups, as is true for virtually every Sandler film, there will be body fluid jokes, gross out humor, silliness, a rather cartoonish adversary, a conflict or obstacle to overcome, lots of laughs, an abundance of feel good platitudes and, finally, lessons will be learned by all involved.
Grown Ups has it all.
The Sandler regulars? While Sandler has always been known for surrounding himself with those he enjoys working with, he's in extraordinary form here as he squeezes in virtually all of his favorites including David Spade, Rob Schneider, Kevin James, Chris Rock, Maya Rudolph, Steve Buscemi, Colin Quinn, Tim Meadows, Norm MacDonald and, just for good measure, there are three other Sandlers in the film.
Oh, and Dennis Dugan directs his fifth Sandler film while good ole' Allen Covert is here as executive producer for the umpteenth time.
Inconsistency? While Grown Ups isn't quite as uneven as some of Sandler's attempts to blend his silliness with his slightly more mature 40-year-old side, there are still a few scenes where you'll be shaking your head going "Was that really necessary?"
Through it all, Grown Ups works. Grown Ups works because it features the Adam Sandler that America, including this film critic, absolutely loves. Grown Ups features the Adam Sandler who can be silly and sweet, over-the-top mean-spirited and disarmingly innocent. Grown Ups may very well be Sandler's most successful film yet at blending the Billy Madison/Big Daddy type films that made him a household name with his ever so slight move into a more mature acting style that has surfaced in both family films and the occasional arthouse flick.
Easily the most successful of the post-SNL crowd, Sandler has managed to remain relevant in Hollywood largely because he's maintained an uncanny ability to tap into that persona that his fans like most while finding ways to stretch himself as an actor. Fans have been understanding, if not particularly supportive, of his efforts like Punch-Drunk Love and Reign Over Me, both films in which Sandler offered surprisingly acclaimed performances but that essentially tapped into the serious side of the usual Sandler screen persona.
In Grown Ups, Sandler plays the role we essentially see him playing in real life as the ring leader for a lovable circle of goofballs, losers, outcasts and oddballs who are, at their very core, really good people. Sandler in the film is Sandler in real life, the most successful of the bunch with a beautiful wife, a trio of kids and yet enough of a grasp of reality to realize that he's still got more than a few quirks of his own. In this case, Sandler's a high-powered agent with a beautiful fashion designer wife (Salma Hayek), a nanny and kids whose idea of communication is texting orders to their nanny.
Needless to say, they will all learn a few lessons about family and quality time by the end of Grown Ups.
While Sandler would seem to be acknowledging his rightful place at the top of his circle's social food chain, Sandler has a gift for recognizing both the truth and the value of those around him. There were those who commented after the film's promo screening in Indy that the film felt a bit more mean-spirited than usual, containing not so subtle jabs about hair, age, weight, race, etc. While the pointedness of these jokes did feel a bit more prevalent than in many Sandler films, they were companioned by Sandler's unique way of saying "This is who we really are. We're okay this way." Amidst all the harsh humor, there's an underlying compassion and goodness that permeates Grown Ups and virtually every Sandler film.
Sandler's buddies, while drawn into their usual broad caricatures, are quite appealingly played out.
There's Rob (Rob Schneider), a pompadour-laden new age guru type married to a hippie old enough to have been a groupie at Woodstock with a couple of hottie "kids"; Eric (Kevin James), whose attractive wife (Maria Bello) is still breast-feeding the couple's 48-month old child and who has a bit of a secret; Kurt (Chris Rock, a househusband to a very pregnant wife (Maya Rudolph) and her equally demanding mother; and Marcus (David Spade), the group's obligatory lewd, single guy.
While none of these performances require even an ounce of acting for anyone involved, but acting really isn't the point of a film like Grown Ups, now is it? Instead, Grown Ups has a certain "comfort" to it that is rare in movies. It's sort of like coming home from a hard day at work, slipping on your favorite t-shirt and chilling out. The t-shirt may not be the nicest, best or even favorite piece of apparel you have, but you wear it because it makes you happy.
Grown Ups will make you happy.
The point in a film like Grown Ups is to be entertained, laugh and leave the theatre feeling better than when you entered it. While many film critics hate to admit it, sometimes being entertained actually is enough.
While Grown Ups may not be a perfect film, it is the kind of film that Adam Sandler's audiences love and judging from the reaction of those attending the promo screening in Indy it's a film that Sandler's audience will enjoy immensely.
Tech credits are solid throughout Grown Ups, while the film features a delightful soundtrack of classic and contemporary music that nicely complements the film. Be sure to stay through the credits, not for a closing montage but for a wonderful little tune from Sandler himself he wrote for his father. It's the perfect funny and tender touch to a wonderfully funny, tender and entertaining film.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic