Sunday, 14 August 2016

RAMBLING RANT: Remember when Adam Sandler was funny?

The last time I watched an Adam Sandler movie in the theatre was Don't Mess With The Zohan. Aside from a batshit opening, it is pretty mediocre.

The last time I watched a new Sandler movie beginning to end was That's My Boy. As well as being a noxious piece of crap, this 'movie' solidified for me why Sandler was so rubbish. In any other movie, Sandler's character--a childish man who manipulates his son to make a buck--would be the villain. Instead he is presented as a hero, while his offspring (Adam Sandberg) is presented as a stick in the mud.

Take an early vehicle as an example: Billy Madison is a childish, self-indulgent prick who is the scion of a wealthy family. He is forced to finish school, and continues acting like a complete douchebag for the rest of the movie. The 'bad guy' is just a man who has been working at his father's company for years. Without going further into it, it's pretty clear Billy does not deserve an inheritance.

 It's a hard persona to make sympathetic, but aside from this one instance, Sandler's early movies at least attempt to give this character an arc, to have him grow from a man child to an adult.

In the last several years, as Sandler's interest in movies seemingly declines, this attempt at character building has disappeared. In every movie now, Sandler plays an angry man-child butting heads with the world because he thinks it owes him something.

Here's a brief look-back at the star vehicles where Sandler got out of his own way and played people you didn't want to punch in the face.

Happy Gilmore (1996)

Sandler's petulant rage is channeled into a redemption story in which Happy has to learn to control his temper, so he can win a golf tournament and use the prise money to save his Grandma's house.

Sandler is helped by a genuinely funny script and two great supporting characters in mentor Chubs (Carl Weathers) and arch nemesis Shooter McGavin (Christopher McDonald).

I would argue that McGavin is the reason why Happy Gilmore works so well. He is such a glorious prick, from the moment he turns up onscreen -- everything he does and says is designed to irk, from hiring some wacko to drive Happy insane, to the way he orders a Pepsi ("Oh, and Miss? Diet"). If he was not so evil, it would be hard to root for Happy. He's a moron with the emotional control of a psychopath (in the scene in the club bar, watch the way he goes from talking to Shooter to smashing a beer bottle to stab him with it, in about two seconds. Insane).

It also helps that Happy's goal is so pure: he just wants to save his Grandma's house (it also helps that the old folks home where she is living appears to be a sweat shop run by Ben Stiller's evil superintendent).

Happy Gilmore will never win any awards (although McDonald deserves something), but it is a fun comedy that remains one of Sandler's best vehicles.

The Wedding Singer (1998)

Bobby Hart is the most sympathetic Sandler-generated character he has ever played. Sandler has played sympathetic characters in other peoples' movies (Punch-Drunk Love), but The Wedding Singer is the one time Sandler crafted a character for himself that feels like a loveable human being. Bobby Hart is an earnest, genuine guy whose only emotional outbursts are born of understandable, relatable frustrations. Otherwise, he's just an average guy looking for love.

It helps that he is paired with Drew Barrymore. Their chemistry is so strong, it's a pity they have not done more vehicles together (although Blended is good reason they probably shouldn't).

Backed by a great soundtrack, characters and set pieces (the 'Love Stinks' scene might be Sandler's funniest), The Wedding Singer is an honest-to-goodness great comedy.

50 First Dates (2004)

If it weren't for Paul Thomas Anderson and Blended, I would say that Drew Barrymore brought out the best in Sandler.

Sandler plays a womanizing asshole named Henry Roth who is forced to become more selfless when he falls for Lucy, a woman with short-term memory loss. Initially he sees her handicap as a great advantage -- they can have a one-night stand and she won't remember anything in the morning. However, events don't go according to this scummy plan, Henry ends up falling for her and spends the movie winning her over.

This movie could have been so bad -- so many of the same cliches that clog up Sandler's other movies are present and correct (most prominent is Rob Schneider as a 'native Hawaiian'), and most of them are horrible -- as usual -- and yet the movie works.

The romance between Sandler and Barrymore is funny and unpredictable -- because of her memory loss, the writers are able to play with our expectations of how Barrymore is going to react to Sandler's daily appearances, and the jokes are all based on cutting Henry down, rather than ridiculing Lucy. This allows us to get a more well-rounded sense of her personality, and provides Henry with a shot at redemption.

50 First Dates has been forgotten in the decade of dross we've been subjected to since, but it deserves more recognition as one of Sandler's last great vehicles. Funny People came later, but 50 First Dates is the last time Sandler appeared to give a shit in one of his own projects.

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