Monday, June 28, 2010
A Movie a Day, Day 43: Grown Ups
In the SNL skits and silly comedies that made his bones, Adam Sandler acted like a slightly funnier version of that guy who cracked you up in English class, a likeable, friendly doofus who’d be a lot of fun to have a beer with. But he’s always struck me as meaner and more complicated than that, a passive-aggressive alpha dog who stays on top at least partly through bullying and intimidation. Comedians are always competing with and riffing on each other, so it might be too harsh to call what Sandler does bullying, but I left his latest movie, Grown Ups, feeling as if Hollywood had given me a great big wedgie.
The overgrown boys in this ironically titled movie are supposed to be great friends, but they haven’t seen each other in decades. The five get together for a Fourth of July weekend (the tossed-off pretext is the funeral of their beloved junior high basketball coach), where they try to recreate the lost glories of their youth, and, of course, learn valuable lessons. It’s a lot like Hot Tub Time Machine – only meaner, since this reunion feels like one long frat hazing, as they ogle hot chicks and riff on each other’s shortcomings.
Rob (Rob Schneider) is goofy-looky, New-Age-y, and too uncool to hide his emotions. Lenny (Sandler) has put on weight, and Eric (Kevin James) is downright fat. Marcus (David Spade) is still living like a member of the Rat Pack (though it’s not clear whether his friends look down on his behavior or envy it.) And Kurt (Chris Rock) is a henpecked househusband. Not that his friends ride him much about that. They don’t need to; his live-in mother-in-law, who comes along for the weekend, does it for them.
The women get it even worse in this casually misogynistic parade of pain. Rob’s wife, Gloria (Joyce Van Patten) is (horrors) older than he is and (gasp) not even hot, but what’s worse is that she and Rob actually have sex. Ewwww! Kurt’s mother-in-law has really ugly feet and can’t seem to stop farting. Old women are just so gross, aren’t they? Then there’s Eric’s pathologically clueless wife, who still breastfeeds her doted-on four-year-old son while ignoring her furiously unhappy daughter. As Lenny’s fashion designer wife, Roxanne Salma Hayek rebels at one point, protesting that she’s not some cold-hearted, workaholic dragon lady and she won’t let Lenny make her out to be one. Nice speech, girlfriend, but it’s too little too late. Maya Rudolph comes off best as Kurt’s wife, partly because she seems smart and self-aware and just as quick on the draw as the guys (she gets off a couple of mildly funny jokes about her own hugely pregnant belly), but mostly because they didn’t develop her character enough to give her any distinguishing characteristics, good or bad, other than that baby bump.
Sandler is listed as the cowriter of Grown Ups, but it feels like it wasn’t so much written as pieced together from the notes an assistant jotted down while Sandler and a couple of his acolytes riffed. All the main characters started out as comedians, and so did a lot of the people in supporting roles (Colin Quinn, Tim Meadows, and Norm McDonald all make appearances), and their interactions mostly play like a one-upmanship contest backstage at a comedy club. They do get off a few funny lines, like when Meadows and Rock argue over which of them is the town’s token black guy and which is “the other black guy,” the one people are afraid of. But for the most part, Sandler and posse are just interested in scoring points off each other – and laughing at people who don’t look or act the way they’re “supposed” to.
I’ve sat next to guys like that in class, too, but I didn’t enjoy it.