The Buzz

Adam Sandler's arrested development

Categories: Movies

Everybody's favourite man-child Adam Sandler returns to the big screen this weekend, and while that's occasionally cause for celebration, there's something about Grown Ups that seems... dispiriting.

It's not just the casting of two of Sandler's least inspired Saturday Night Live chums - David Spade and Rob Schneider - that's making me steer clear of this one. (Though it's true I would prefer to be maced than sit through another Schneider movie.) It's that Grown Ups' trailer - filled with pee and breast-feeding jokes - promises a return to the adolescent humour I had hoped Adam Sandler had grown out of.

He established himself as a lovable bonehead and overgrown kid in both his SNL Opera Man sketches and early, legitimately funny comedies like Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore. Sandler's doofus persona, which often required him to employ a grating baby voice, was the type that could grow a little thin. By the time he appeared in Big Daddy, a film that saw the Sandler character getting his act together and learning about fatherhood, the comic seemed aware that it was time to start branching out.

What followed was a reinvention of sorts, with Sandler delivering a string of movies that tapped into the darker edges (and anger) that have always been there in his comic exterior. Sandler was a marvel in Punch-Drunk Love (2002) as a lonely loser whose only forms of release lie in calls to phone-sex lines and intermittent rageaholic outbursts.

And he was downright revelatory in last year's Funny People, a movie that allowed him to deconstruct the goofy image fans expect him to display onscreen. As George, a wildly successful stand-up comic-turned-movie star, Sandler gives a real dramatic performance. Facing middle age and his own mortality, the selfish George contemplates how he's traded in the genuine jokes he crafted in his youth for a hack career in the mindless, overgrown man-baby movies he's made to please his fans. The parallels to Sandler's own screen career felt deliberate, as if Sandler was detonating his own Happy Gilmore image.

The fact that Grown Ups is his first film role since Funny People makes it feel doubly depressing. It's as if Sandler had finally reached onscreen adulthood, only to regress once more. He can do this sophomoric back-to-camp script in his sleep - but does he need to anymore?

I'm curious to hear from Sandler fans on this one, as I suspect they might have a different take. Is it time for Adam Sandler to finally grow up?

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