Is this the beginning of an Adam Sandlerssance?

In 100% Fresh, Adam Sandler proves that he can still be funny as well as deliver heartfelt moments.

In 100% Fresh, Adam Sandler proves that he can still be funny as well as deliver heartfelt moments

Adam Sandler's new comedy special, 100% Fresh, currently sits at 92% on Rotten Tomatoes, making it one of his best-rated works. (Netflix)

In case you haven't heard, Adam Sandler is funny again. Well, at least according to critics, who have, generally speaking, eviscerated the comedian's films for the past decade or more. Grown Ups and Grown Ups 2, both written by and starring Sandler, have 10 per cent and seven per cent ratings on Rotten Tomatoes, respectively (this, despite them pulling in $162 million and $127.5 million at the box office). On top of this, two Sandler pictures have zero per cent ratings: The Ridiculous 6 and Bucky Larson: Born to be a Star, a rare distinction only given to 36 other films, such as Police Academy 4 and Jaws 4: The Revenge

While Sandler has said in the past that he doesn't pay attention to critics — and with a net worth of $400 million, I guess he doesn't have to — this was obviously on his mind when he titled his recent Netflix standup special, 100% Fresh.

"The bad reviews that I get on everything I do, that part pisses me off," Sandler told radio show host Howard Stern back in 2015. "Every Friday, literally every one of my movies is destroyed."

Sandler, speaking to Stern again this year, confirmed that the title is directly inspired by the film review aggregator site. "On Rotten Tomatoes, all my movies get zeroes and stuff, so I put 100% Fresh to get, one time in my life, a good score," he said. 

Call it a self-fulfilling prophecy, but the Netflix special is currently at 92 per cent, the closest Sandler has come to a perfect Rotten Tomatoes score, minus his starring role in Noah Baumbach's The Meyerowitz's Stories, which is at 93 per cent. (Movies in which Sandler stars in, but doesn't write, tend to perform better, such as Judd Apatow's Funny People, Chris Rock's Top Five and Paul Thomas Anderson's Punch-Drunk Love).

Could this be the makings of the Sandlerssance that has been rumoured since as far back as 2002, when, after a string of critically panned films, such as Little Nicky and Mr. Deeds, Sandler turned in an award-worthy performance in Punch-Drunk Love?

"[100% Fresh] has plenty of the d*ck jokes you'd expect, but it's also (mostly) packed with the earnestness, honesty, and weirdness you find in his best work," one review stated, while another added that "it reminds you of the Sandler we all used to love."

If anything, Sandler himself hasn't changed his routine, but perhaps critics are just more receptive to it now. 100% Fresh features Sandler doing very Sandler-esque comedy, making it almost feel like a routine pulled right from his best '90s material. He's both immature and earnest, playing the down-on-his-luck everyman schtick that he's known for as he makes everyday observations. He sings songs that are kind of catchy but exist solely to deliver a punchline, which are often about farts (Uber Driver) or sexual acts (Station 69). Like any comedy special, some jokes fall flat (UFC Ears is so ridiculous in concept and execution that even Sandler can't hold it together), but some land with a big laugh, such as Phone, Wallet, Keys, which already has almost 1.5 million views on YouTube.

And there are still other moments when Sandler transcends his best work and delivers touching observations about life as a 50-something-year-old comic. In an age where the most successful comedy acts are based in sarcasm, cynicism or subversion (see any of Netflix's best standup specials from people like Ally Wong, Bo Burnham, Iliza Shlesinger, Hannah Gadsby, et al), Sandler's genuine earnestness comes across as refreshing.

In one sketch, he tells an allegedly true story about lining up with his family for a roller-coaster only to realize there are just three seats on the ride. Abandoned by his family to ride alone, he befriends another father in the same situation and they experience that rare moment that is bonding with a complete stranger. And then the punchline hits, which gets one of the biggest laughs of the special.

In another particularly touching moment, Sandler sings a song about his friend Chris Farley, and it includes both a highlight reel of Farley's best-known bits as well as some really personal observations about the late actor's final days.

"We'd tell him slow down, you'll end up like Belushi and Candy/ He said those guys are my heroes; that's all fine and dandy/ I'm not making that shit up, that's the truth about my boy Chris Farley," he sings at one point.

He ends the song asking the audience to "give it up for the great Chris Farley," and there's not a person in the audience left who isn't cheering or crying.

If 100% Fresh is a nostalgia blast for anyone who owned Sandler's standup album, They're All Gonna Laugh At You!, it's also one for Sandler, who ends the show by rehashing his song from The Wedding Singer, Grow Old With You

As a highlight (and lowlight) reel of his career flashes on the screen behind him, Sandler thanks his wife, and the audience, for putting up with him and laughing at his immature jokes all these years. "And this goes for all of you guys here tonight," he says. "Thanks for growing old with me."

It's one of many knowing winks that Sandler gives throughout the special that, yes, while he's made some less-than-great creative decisions over his career, his best moments still shine bright. 100% Fresh happens to be one of them.


Jesse Kinos-Goodin

Senior Producer, CBC Music

Jesse Kinos-Goodin has been a journalist and producer at CBC since 2012. He focuses on music and the arts. He is currently the senior producer for social at CBC Music. Reach him on Twitter @JesseKG or email jesse.kinos-goodin@cbc.ca