Ryan Smythe ‘15 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Remember the glory days of Adam Sandler in the mid to late-90s, with Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, The Wedding Singer, and The Waterboy sending the SNL star soaring into Hollywood fame?
Sandler’s recent attempts to recreate that happy-go-lucky schmuck have scored an incredible average of 10% on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, with the biggest loser being Jack and Jill which managed only to scrape together a 3%. The world seemed desperate for Sandler to move on from that tired, used, and beaten character and find a new profession.
Instead, he has responded to the criticism with Blended, a romantic comedy starring Drew Barrymore and himself (who starred in 50 First Dates together previously). In typical Sandler fashion, the movie starts up with an awkward interaction, this time taking the form of a blind date between the leading characters. They are both single parents attempting to reenter the dating scene after a long break from marriage, set up with each other by friends. The date is an unsurprising disaster, with Sandler taking Barrymore to a Hooters. The tension in the theater was palpable at this point, with what seemed to be another Sandler flop playing on the screen.
That’s about when the middle-aged comedian started throwing in lines that made everyone gasp. Writing them out here would be a disservice to the movie, as the surprise turns out to be half of the fun. It’s a difficult concept to grasp, trusting Sandler to finish the joke without a fart or an obnoxious scream. But he does it, over and over again, throughout the entirety of the movie. Yes, there are still crude jokes about sex and masturbation thrown in, but this time they don’t feel forced. The sex is funny because it’s not the punchline of an obvious joke anymore, instead it’s the punchline of a scene that showed no intention of becoming a joke. The masturbation jokes make sense because they’re about a teenage boy, and those two things are inseparable.
In fact all of the children in this movie, three girls for Sandler and two boys for Barrymore, are fantastically written. The youngest girl is testing out just how much she can control her doting father; the youngest boy has an unbelievable amount of energy that his mother simply cannot contain and a father completely uninterested in his life; the middle daughter is dealing with heartbreak and loss left behind by a missing mother; the oldest boy is wrestling with his feelings about his babysitter, much to the horror of his mother; and the oldest girl is discovering her sexuality, much to the horror of her father. There is genuine character development here, for all five of the children. It is heartwarming, awkward, slightly disturbing, and very messy, just like childhood.
While the children are half of the core of this movie, the other half is the relationship between Barrymore and Sandler. After their terrible date, the two continually bump into each other around town before their unexpected co-vacation to Africa. Unlike Sandler’s previous movies, the interactions seem genuine and plausible. That goes for the relationship development between the pair as well, starting out awkward and hate-filled, but slowly the two begin to like each other. It stems from the fact that both are good parents confused by children of the opposite gender, desperate to stay good parents. The pair is genuinely charming, and it’s hard not to root for them to finally get together.
Accompanying the two families is a large cast of non-traditional families. At the African resort, it is a “Blended” family week where couples not fitting the traditional man-and-wife first marriage label come together to celebrate their lives together. That ranges from step-parents barely older than their new children to gay couples to one night stands gone wrong. Sandler does an amazing job not poking fun at any of the arrangements, instead drawing humor from the awkwardness that comes from these parents and their children. The main example of this is a couple played by Kevin Nealon and his 20-something new bride. Their constant PDA makes their son, only five years younger than his new mother, very uncomfortable. This could have easily been an easy way for constant boob jokes, but instead it shows the chemistry between the new couple and the step-mother’s desire of her son’s approval. In a family dynamic that is generally looked down upon, genuine love and affection for each other overpower any judgement that is thrown their way.
The entire movie follows that theme, with the resort embracing all kinds of families with open arms. All types of relationships are looked at in a surprisingly accepting way, and it is done in a very enjoyable movie. If this is the direction Sandler’s career is going, with the strange voices and caricatures replaced by realistic dysfunction and a happy tone, then audiences should rejoice.
Overall Grade: A-
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