Let’s go ahead and get one thing out of the way: Contrary to popular belief, not every Adam Sandler movie is terrible.
Believe it or not, there was a time when zero guilt was assigned to admitting you were a fan of Sandler’s movies. Back in the heady days of the mid-90s, Sandler was, if not the reigning king of arrested-development cinema, at least a decorated member of the Royal Order of Man-Children. Movies such as Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, The Wedding Singer, and even The Waterboy are revered in most comedy circles and all have proven to be highly re-watchable. Today, you can even get away with admitting a fondness for some of Sandler’s early 2000s work. 50 First Dates is an above average rom-com. Spanglish was sappy and heavy-handed, but The Sandman’s performance was among the film’s few bright spots. And, although polarizing, Punch-Drunk Love is arguably the best work Sandler has ever done (it also happens to be one of my favorite movies of all time).
Even the most ardent Sandler fans, however, have to admit that his IMDB page reads like a list of cinematic punishments in which an actor — any actor — would only participate at the threat of great bodily harm to both him and his next of kin. Over the last fifteen years, Sandler has made some of the most unoriginal, unfunny, groan-worthy, and downright annoying movies of all time. Jack and Jill. I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry. Reign Over Me. The remake of The Longest Yard. Bedtime Stories. The Grown Ups “franchise.” If you woke up one Saturday morning with the worst hangover ever and discovered TBS was showing these movies back-to-back all day, and you were given the option of nursing your headache on the comfy couch while watching the Sandler movie-thon or running a half-marathon wearing only flip flops and pants made out of sandpaper, you’d grab your Tevas and your extra-coarse pants and sprint out the door.
After a string of movies at the start of his career that ranged from decent to very good, Sandler hit the same wall upon which fellow SNLer Eddie Murphy is splattered: He stopped making original, edgy comedies and settled comfortably into the lucrative but inherently awful world of more family friendly fare. Sandler is one of the top box office draws of the last two decades, and his movies — even the really bad ones — have made a truckload of cash. It’s obvious Sandler got very comfortable in the PG-13 world of formulaic, broad comedies (and, really, who can blame him? I’ll bet having all the money is awesome). These days, the recipe Adam Sandler uses to whip up a movie is pretty simple: Find an exotic/opulent locale that would make for a great vacation (Hawaii, South Africa, Cape Cod), cast a hot actress to play the love interest, fill out the rest of the cast with a bunch of old friends and SNL alums, grab the script from the last movie, think about re-writing it but give up and just change all the characters’ names, and then Lights. Camera. Action. Let’s make an Adam Sandler movie!
Despite the fact that the vast majority of his movies are indefensible as art and contain almost no redeeming qualities (comedic or otherwise), I am willing to step forward as part of Funkhouser’s Guilty Pleasures week and admit I love Adam Sandler movies. All of them. Every single one.
How’s this for putting the “guilt” in guilty pleasures: I have seen almost every movie in which Adam Sandler has starred in a movie theater. By my calculation, that means I’ve spent somewhere north of $230 on tickets alone. Think about that. That means I saw Click in a theater. I saw You Don’t Mess with the Zohan in the theater. I saw Just Go With It in the theater. I saw Grown Ups in the theater. Fortunately, I can honestly say I didn’t see Grown Ups 2 in the theater. However, I did watch it on a DVD from Netflix (which means I consciously added the movie to my queue, moved it to the #1 position, waited three days for it to arrive, opened the red envelope, confirmed that Netflix had indeed sent me Grown Ups 2, and I STILL popped it into my computer to watch. NO ONE MADE ME DO ANY OF THIS!).
What can I say? I just love me some Sandler. There is something about him as a performer that keeps me coming back for more. He has earned an infinite amount of goodwill in my book, and it will never be diminished no matter how bad his movies get. Sure, some if it has to do with the fact that he seems like the most loyal guy in show business, casting his buddies in every movie his Happy Madison production company churns out. And I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I love the fact that Sandler is one of the few A-list stars who dresses like a complete bum regardless of how formal his surroundings may be (does Brad Pitt have the balls to wear baggy track pants and a sweatshirt on The Tonight Show? NOPE!).
I grew up watching Sandler play crazy characters on MTV’s Remote Control and, later, on Saturday Night Live. His run on SNL is probably best remembered for his silly voices and catchy songs, but unlike most recent cast members cut from a similar cloth (Andy Samberg, Jimmy Fallon, etc.), Sandler always had a sharp edge to him that seemed just barely concealed by his overt goofiness. The cherry on top of my Sandler-mania is probably rooted in the fact that I spent my college years listening to Sandler’s comedy albums — most notably 1993’s They’re All Gonna Laugh at You and 1996’s What the Hell Happened to Me. As far as I’m concerned, those two albums deserve to be ranked among the best comedy albums ever. I know that sounds ridiculous, especially to younger audiences who only know Sandler as the Razzie-award winning star of Jack and Jill. But take ten minutes and listen to “The Goat,” the most famous sketch off of What the Hell Happened to Me, and tell me it’s not one of the funniest things you’ve ever heard. From the moment I heard Sandler portray a foul-mouthed goat that longed for nothing more than to pal around with some of the neighborhood kids in between beatings from The Old Man, I was a fan for life. Everyone has that one actor, one band, or one author who, in their eyes, can do no wrong. For me, that actor is Adam Sandler, and his movies — no matter how irredeemable — will always be one of my favorite guilty pleasures.
If you refuse to cut the man slack for his multi-year detour through Hackville, I don’t blame you. But if you haven’t completely given up on him, I urge you to hold out hope. In recent years, Sandler has shown he might still have a few tricks up his sleeve. His performance in Funny People showed a level of self-awareness (and self-parody) that hasn’t been on display since Punch-Drunk. That’s My Boy was a crude exercise in bad Masshole accents and trying to get too many laughs out of the mere presence of Vanilla Ice, but it was a nice reminder that Sandler can still get down and dirty in a hard-R comedy. And he’s part of two upcoming projects — The Cobbler from writer/director Thomas McCarthy, and Men, Women & Children from director Jason Reitman — that, on paper at least, appear closer in tone to the roles that serve as the high-water mark of his career than most of his recent efforts.
Given his track record, there’s no reason to believe Adam Sandler will ever stop making terrible movies. He still has plenty of genres to pollute…err, explore (Has he starred in a talking animal movie yet? I do not think he has starred in a talking animal movie yet. I’d definitely like to see him in one of those). He’s relatively young and probably has a long career ahead of him making not so great movies. And that’s just fine with me.