GROWN UPS, 2010
Cast: Adam Sandler, Salma Hayek, Kevin James, David Spade, Chris Rock, Rob Schneider, Maria Bello, Steve Buscemi, Maya Rudolph, Norm MacDonald, Tim Meadows
Thirty years after their high school graduation, five good friends and their families reunite for a Fourth of July weekend.
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Is Adam Sandler an auteur? That may be a philosophical question that bedevils us forever, but there's no doubt his films represent a great deal of his own internal self-image played out before us. The tortured, socially awkward loner who overcomes all of his adversaries often through brute force, his movies have been like a shy kid playing out his internal fantasies for us, with a patina of entertainment to make them passable. And that he's gotten older and, in theory, more mature some of that is starting to slip into his films, too.
Lenny (Adam Sandler) is a successful Hollywood agent with a beautiful wife (Salma Hayek) and some awfully spoiled kids, the California dream. But before he had all of that he was member of a championship junior high basketball team with his four best friends (Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade, and Rob Schneider) and when their beloved coach dies the group gathers together for one Independence Day weekend to remember him.
Sandler has actually grown up a little. His film daydreams now center on raising his kids and having a good marriage. Despite fearing his friends finding out how cushy his life is, Lenny's abiding attribute actually is maturity: he passes on the need to show up old rivals (Colin Quinn) or yell and scream when frustrated (except for his job). It's an interesting bit of growth for the Sandler screen persona, although he's still the most successful and well-adjusted of all his friends, so he hasn't moved that far from the mark.
The reality is these things are, and always have been, exercises in self-entertainment for Sandler and his friends, and if anyone else finds some entertainment in that good on them. "Grown Ups" may be the most extreme version of that, as the entire idea behind the film seems to be Sandler and his friends riffing on each other for about an hour and a half, with a little bit of plot thrown in so it can be called a film.
He's certainly not the first comedian to try that; that's practically the description of every Marx Brothers movie. On the other hand, the Marx Brothers were funny. A lot of "Grown Ups" has the imagination and wit of a bad sitcom, especially in the first half. The characters themselves are often broad-brush stereotypes designed to hang jokes off of in the laziest manner possible. Kurt (Chris Rock) is a home-maker who has switched breadwinner roles with his wife (Maya Rudolph), leading to frequent sexual identity 'gags.' Marcus (David Spade) is an over age womanizer; Rob (Rob Schneider) is annoying and obnoxious, and so is his character.
There were a couple of moments where to my own terror I found myself grinning, but was quickly relieved to discover I was actually just wincing in pain.
The worst of it left to the first half of the film, and it's pretty bad. "Grown Ups" takes special glee from Kurt's mother-in-law's frequent gas and rudeness. But it opens up quite a bit as it goes as the adults actually begin to shrug off their clichés and ridiculous gags and actually begin to relate to each other as adults. Except for Rob.
The second half of "Grown Ups" isn't good enough to dig its way out of the tremendous hole it's created for itself but it's far from the worse thing Sandler and company has ever made. Like his character he seems to be getting older and wiser and so do his movies, a little. Maybe in another 20 years he'll actually make something funny.