Adam Sandler: After 15 years, he keeps serving his fans, which is why they serve him

grown-upsImage Credit: Tracy BennettAdam Sandler has always enjoyed a special relationship with his fans, because he presents himself as a barely glorified version of them. He mirrors their silliness, their corny-horny obsessiveness,  their wholesome arrested development, and — now — their lunge toward middle age. More often than not, they return the favor by turning out for his movies. At 43, Sandler still has a kind of pact with his audience, an I’ll-always-be-me slapstick nobility. After years of hit comedies, he still looks the same — same bullet-headed buzzcut, same boyishly gawky grin, same soft-bodied pudge that says, “Hey, I may be a big movie star, but I do likes to eat!” And when he isn’t taking one of his periodic detours into being a serious actor (something he can be quite brilliant at), he still makes goofy, madcap-obvious, and at times very funny movies. His $40 million opening weekends are, by now, a summer tradition; considering that he became a major movie star 15 years ago, his track record, despite a few bumps in the road, is astonishingly sustained. What’s shrewd, intriguing, and admirable about Sandler’s career is that the comedies he shepherds and stars in often appear to be animated by an unchanging naughty-boy spirit, but in their irresponsible and slightly plastic way, they’ve gradually grown up. They’ve mirrored the lives of Sandler’s fans.

The early Sandler hits, made when he was in his late twenties and early thirties, were pure infantile anarchy: comedies like Billy Madison (1995), Happy Gilmore (1996), and (the best of them) The Waterboy (1998), in which he essentially played lovable-nudnik mental defectives — modern-day Jerry Lewis basket cases. Then came his key transitional film, The Wedding Singer (1998), in which he rolled himself in a sweet thick pastry of ’80s nostalgia and “normalized” his image. It worked! He emerged from all that goo-goo-voiced krazy doofiness and proved that he could be a different sort of leading man, a tradition he continued in Mr. Deeds (2002), 50 First Dates (2004), and Click (2006). More recently, Sandler’s work has acquired a dada dimension of tongue-in-cheek social commentary: I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry (2007) was a hilarious oxymoron — a plea for sexual tolerance from a benign reactionary — and You Don’t Mess with the Zohan (2008) was like Munich starring Peter Sellers.

With the new hit comedy Grown Ups, however, Sandler extends his autobiographical arc and takes a new leap of faith, one that his fans clearly appreciated a lot more than most of the media did. Working with his regular collaborator, the director Dennis Dugan, Sandler now embraces the comedy of middle-aged schlubdom, creating a suburban cartoon gross-out version of The Big Chill. Most of the reviews for Grown Ups have been scathing; the film was so dismissed that a lot of observers were probably shocked to see that it made $41 million in its opening weekend. Yet Sandler, once again, plays to his audience like a seasoned maestro. The movie has just enough adolescent japery to feed your inner comedy beast: Rob Schneider salivating over his ancient hippie wife or getting mangled in a game of arrow roulette; Maria Bello breast-feeding her and Kevin James’ four-year-old son; our heroes peeing in a swimming pool and turning the water tell-tale blue. Mostly, though, Sandler and his fellow actors (David Spade, Chris Rock, Schneider, and James) bash and pummel each other with one-liners that are the comedy equivalent of foam-rubber bats. Playing five chums mired in the pleasant chaos of family life or, simply, in the demise of their youth, they’re too fortyish and weary to get off on the fun of the forbidden; they’re just trying to get by. And a lot of the people in Sandler’s fan club obviously relate. For two decades, they’ve been happy to grow up with him, and the success of Grown Ups signals that they may now be happy to start growing old with him, too.

So who out there liked Grown Ups? Do you think it got a bum rap from critics? And what is it about Adam Sandler that makes him not just funny but such a decade-spanning comedy hero? What’s your all-time favorite Sandler film?

Comments (116 total) Add your comment
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  • A

    “The Waterboy” was better than “Billy Madison” and “Happy Gilmore”???? What planet are you on?

    • Ryan

      “Do you have anymore gum…more gum…more gum. Do you have anymore gum?”

    • Michael

      Yeah, for real… Happy Gilmore is WAY better than The Waterboy. … “The price is WRONG, BITCH!”

      • Liz

        I don’t think anything can top Adam and Bob duking it out for 5 minutes on the big screen. the audience was laughing so loud we could barely hear the movie.

    • Tim

      The thing is that he is a great actor. With his clout, why can’t he hire a GOOD WRITER that creates a GOOD COMEDY that has a good balance between raunch/goofiness and intelligence/insight?
      GROWN UPS has no plot. Basically a bunch of friends get together…and they riff, and joke around and…nothing happens, basically.

      • Carla

        Pay attention, the writing in these comedies is good. Referncing Funny People here, which was epic in it’s quiet genius!

      • Punch Drunk Love

        ok here we’ve finally got a person who liked funny people so many friends said it sucked and was not funny cause it was a bit dramatic. I thought it was a great balance between comedy and drama with the humor being the best apatows ever done and the drama being just enough to make one sympathize with Sandler and rogen for that matter. Funny people, IMO is his second best while his best is Punch Drunk Love which uses sandlers rage and awkwardness to the best degree. It’s a great offbeat dark comedy by Paul Thomas Anderson who is a f**king visionary.

    • thin

      I am so with you, A. That was blasphemy. BLASPHEMY!

    • Mike

      Owen’s always late to “get” someone’s comedy . . . like when he panned the first Ace Ventura movie and then a couple films later started raving how Jim Carrey was a comic visionary.

    • The Vicster

      That was my first thought. EW needs to hire just ONE writer with a sense of humor…

    • LOL

      Sandler dumbs it down for his stupid audience. What a waste.

    • jay

      LCD comedy! People are stupid, they want STUPID humor!

    • EVAN

      i think we all like adam and his comedy troupe because during any bad time, take 2 hourse and give it to them and they’ll make u laugh everytime. People that bash him cuz its immature are just pretentious and i’ll bet they deep down like him. I think he needs to be recognized as one of the greatest entertainers of all time. critics, take note!

  • Generation Gossip

    I thought it was a funny, great movie. And Owens right, Adam has grown with his audience, maybe thats something Tom Cruise needs to learn.

    • LOL

      Sandler fans just can’t get enough of him talking in a fake voice. Pathetic.

  • lorakeet

    The weird thing about Adam Sandler movies is that I don’t want to like them but I usually do.

    • Lisa Simpson

      Me, too. Though I did really his take on the romantic comedy with “The Wedding Singer” and “50 First Dates”. They were funny and surprisingly sweet.

      • Hrfe

        I agree with you, maybe it has something to do with their other lead, Drew Barrymore?

  • Colin

    ‘Happy Gilmore’ is the best of his early comedies, followed closely by ‘Billy Madison’. ‘Waterboy’ was just terrible.

    • Vince

      Comon it wasn’t terrible.. Well I mean theyre all terrible but thats what makes them awesome. Little Nicky was the most terribly awesome!

  • Melinda

    I love Adam Sandler and all of his movies, regardless of what the critics say (what do they know from funny?) :) I’ll definitely be seeing his latest venture as well!

    • jmo

      I think they’re so funny is because quite often he brings the same actors into each movie (Schneider is the best of them all!!). So, for me, it’s like watching a bunch of friends get together to play pretend. Even the uneven movies like Little Nicky become my favorite as I rewatch the gang. They have fun and it’s all heart….and farts. :)

      • lalala

        That’s actually what I like, too, that he’s acting with a lot of his friends. The chemistry really shows (I guess I could say the same for the Ocean’s Eleven movies – even if the plot goes south, it’s fun to watch friends playing off each other).

    • catt

      Adam is awsome..I was an extra on the set of Grownups Hes a real nice guy. He made it a lot of fun for us. 15 hrs at any other job fuggettabouitt!

  • Molly

    I saw Grown Ups yesterday and laughed so hard. I don’t remember the last time so many in the audience laughed so hard at so many things. Sure, they were small jokes, but it was a great experience and I didn’t leave thinking I should have waited and rented it.

  • K turner

    I loved “Grown UP”. It felt like I was hanging out with my friends and ripping on each other and just remembering good friends are life’s way of keeping each other in check. Sandler has and always will, keep us all in check and reminds us that we only human and guys will always have stupid and dangerous game to play no matter how old we are. remember mumbly peg? haha

  • Diana

    The movie grownups was terrible; no people in the
    theatre; it was like a distant relatives vacation
    movie; everyone was buying Tom cruise tickets;
    who in the world bought the 40 m tckts when the
    theatres were empty.

  • Diana

    The second half of the movie; the long shots
    had a huge dirt spot on the upper half of the
    camera lens, the mid shots it’s not there.
    Ten bucks to watch a frgn home movie vacation

    • eric

      Totally agree, the quality was terrible. Was Adam’s kid the cinematographer? Sandler can do better, the problem is that his dumb-ass audience won’t see his good movies, like Funny People. That was brilliant, but it bombed.

      • Heather

        Terrible or not, it was classic Sandler. I like him, bad movies and all. That’s what gives him character! Funny people was an amazing movie showing that he can be serious and ridiculous at the same time. I think, if he cared more he could be a bigger star. He’s getting older, not really more mature, just…. smarter, and he’s playing to all of us now. Not just the infantile, poopy joke crowd of us. Mucho props!!

  • Alex

    Ten people in the theatre watching grownups.
    The ticket line selling Tom cruise and toy story.

  • Josie

    While I love Adam Sandler’s old school stupid funny (I grew up with Billy Madison every weekend) I didn’t love Click.

    Although I didn’t like Funny people, I do love Punch Drunk Love. But my all time favorite will always be Spanglish. The first time I saw it, it knocked everything else he had ever done out of my head.

    I really don’t think I will like Grown Ups, so I’m just staying away. despite my love for everything Kevin James.

    • jmo

      You know one thing I like about Sandler that both you and the writer touched on is that he’s got a lot of different types of movies. I’m in my early 30’s and I’ve noticed that as I get older, some of his movies seem to resonated with me more than when I first watched them in my late teens/ early twenties. I didn’t like Spanglish when I first watched it in the theater but I LITERALLY just re-watched it like two weeks ago and really liked it. A lot can change in 6 years I guess.

    • Ambient Lite

      Spanglish really was great – and I also love his old school funny…every once in a while, I get the ‘Lunch Lady’ or ‘Hanukkah’ song in my head, and it ALWAYS makes me smile.

    • Ambient Lite

      …or on less awesome days, “At A Medium Pace” ;)

  • Daniel Cooper

    Yeah, someone mentioned Tom Cruise on this board and I kept thinking of him (and his flop) as these numbers rolled in for this big hit. Where Sandler is evolving with his audience, Cruise is being quixotic. Even if he doesn’t look it, Cruise ‘feels’ like a man who is over his prime trying to play off his youthful appeal (which just doesn’t resonate) and the effect is unintentional hilarious results like this terrible action film he just made which feels like a North-by-Northwest version of “Risky Business.” The film is soaking in such irony that it makes you want to laugh at Cruise, who does a better job creeping you out than charming you. And that the film plays it straight makes the film unwatchable and big turn off. If only Cruise pulled a move from Sandler’s playbook and ran with this irony rather than thumbing his nose at it, he could’ve made a great comedy poking fun at men his age still trying to hold onto their youthful naivete. As it stands, Sandler rides his middle-aged masculinity like a skilled surfer as Cruise nearly drowns in it.

    • lalala

      Um, I don’t really get what the problem is. What do you mean by “youthful appeal”? You mean doing the action scenes? Yout wanted him to play off how old he is but still doing action films, like Harrison Ford in the last Indiana Jones film? If Tom is able to still to do all his own stunts, what’s wrong with doing an action film? And he isn’t even that old!

    • jmo

      I think it’s funny that you bring up North by Northwest because one of the only actors (IMHO) that is a callback to the golden age of film is Cruise. (Tom Cruise is to Cary Grant as Tom Hanks is to Jimmy Stewart). For all the talk of evolving, it’s the total book of work that reflects on whether an actor is remembered and whose films are rewatched generations later. To that point and that point only, both actors win.

      • JennieO

        “Tom Cruise is to Cary Grant as Tom Hanks is to Jimmy Stewart”??? Um, no. That would be George Clooney. Cruise can’t compare to Grant’s or Clooney’s acting ability, let alone their charm, elegance, or masculinity. Or hotness. I will give you the Hanks = Stewart, though.

      • jmo

        No way Jennie. George Clooney = Clark Gable. Totally! Gable and Clooney had range and look alike. I’m just saying Cruise and Grant are always Cruise and Grant in almost every single movie. That’s not a bad thing. And for people who don’t know alot of Grant’s movies (imdb people and netflix adds his movies every day). It’s great to know you get the same charming guy whether its Bringing up Baby or Walk! Don’t Run (which is like 30 year apart). Glad to see another Jenn who appreciates old hollywood.

    • catt

      i watched the first part of the movie, just to see my town in the sucked.He does come off as creepy.

    • Ann

      Adam Sandler has some good movies and some poor movies. I personally liked Bedtime Stories. Some of Grownups I liked but some was just not funny at all. As far as Tom Cruise he is a great actor and George Clooney comes no way near him. Clooney has no passion and you never hear him get passionately upset in a movie or even become a different charactor except for Where art thou, Brother? Jerry McGuire..George Clooney in that role??? Puhleeez he doesn’t even know what it is like to be in love…or least he does not act that way on screen.

      • JMB

        What Clooney movies have you seen?

    • Heather

      well said!!

  • ASFan

    I liked Grown Ups as well and it’s clear why audiences have eaten it up: it’s a summer comedy about having fun in the summer. I’m looking forward to Just Go With It as well as I like the idea of Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston together. Not really looking forward to Jack and Jill, though.

    I just wish that through this ‘evolving’, he’d do something R-rated, and by that I mean a straight out R-rated comedy, not a dramedy.

    • Heather

      Asfan, totally agree!! wish he would let go….just ONE time!!!

  • Christophe Diederich

    Adam Sandler is great for one of the reasons Woody Allen is; his comedy has heart. He is not out to hurt. He is spreading the love like the Beasties. Ish… came full circle on that one.

    • Sue

      You hit the nail on the head. I like all of Sandler’s movies because beyond the gross outs there is a layer of sweetness to them.

  • court

    No mention of Big Daddy. Now THAT was Sandler’s best film.

    • Gillian

      Agreed. I was never really a fan of his until I saw that movie.

    • J

      Excellent movie, but I think the Wedding Singer was his best movie.

    • Deb

      Big Daddy made me fall in absolute love with Adam Sandler. And 50 First Dates is awesome. The only Sandler movie I really disliked was Little Nicky.

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