In our regular polarising-opinion series, Total Film writer Jamie Graham asks, ‘Is it just me? … or is Grown Ups an underrated gem?
Adam Sandler has made some stinkers. No argument there.
But the consensus that he’s made just two-and-a-half decent movies – T he Wedding Singer, Punch-Drunk Love and the first half of Funny People – is plain wrong. Happy Gilmore, Big Daddy, 50 First Dates, You Don’t Mess With The Zohan … all are decent, deserving of respect.
But it’s the movie that’s perhaps the most derided on his CV, 2010’s Grown Ups , that deserves not just respect but love, offering as it does laughs, chemistry, honesty and enough poignant themes to satisfy any open-minded viewer. I say ‘open-minded’ because a terrific amount of critical snobbery is wafted at Sandler’s films. “They shouldn’t be so easily dismissed,” said Paul Thomas Anderson when promoting Punch-Drunk Love in 2002, a film he wrote specifically for Sandler. “I really love them and I just cry with laughter.”
Asked why so few people outside Middle America share his opinion, Anderson cut through the bullshit: “I guess I was just paying attention.” If Grown Ups was a French movie (its tale of old friends having a reunion in the country and putting the world to rights through incessant chatter is, indeed, very French), you can bet critics would have paid attention.
OK, so maybe there would have been less fat gags and toilet gags and breast-milk gags, and it’s unlikely Mathieu Amalric would have made out with a shaggy, slobbering mutt, like David Spade does. But Grown Ups also offers credible insights into marriage, parenthood, class, friendship and city vs country, while its nostalgia for lost youth – and how youth is seemingly lost on the teens of today, with the kids in the movie favouring cell phones and computer games over the great outdoors – is quietly moving amid all the bellowing.
The pals who come together for their old basketball coach’s funeral are played by the aforementioned Sandler and Spade, plus Chris Rock, Kevin James and Rob Schneider. Critics’ Kryptonite, to be sure, and a cast list that saw Sandler face charges of nepotism and indulgence. But he was shrewd to populate his film with his best mates in the business, their history informing the characters’ banter. The producer/star also ransacked his own life for material. Playing a big-shot Hollywood agent with want-for-nothing kids meant that Sandler, who grew up in a working-class family, could dramatise his fear that his own children are spoilt LA brats, and that his oldest friends might now view him as too big for his britches/Armani suit. Some of the set-pieces, meanwhile, such as Kevin James falling from a rope swing, happened to Sandler himself.
In this way GU is to Sandler what Stand By Me is to Stephen King, and its personal touches lend truth and heart. With a strong female cast (Salma Hayek, Maria Bello, Maya Rudolph) and a tender climax cutting through the macho posturing, GU belongs as much to the tradition of reunion dramas like John Sayles’ The Return Of The Secaucus Seven and Lawrence Kasdan’s The Big Chill as it does to gross-out comedies.
Or is it just me?