Thursday, July 11, 2013

Has Adam Sandler given up completely?

Adam Sandler has tried. He's tried a handful of times. After nearly a decade of churning out comedy vehicles like Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, and The Wedding Singer, Sandler in 2002 actually tried stretching his acting chops with Paul Thomas Anderson's "Punch-Drunk Love." The result? A very warm critical response that has turned into flat out praise over the years. The status of "Punch-Drunk Love" has really risen over the years. Once thought to be a nice change of pace for PTA, it's now seen as the beginning of a complete stylistic shift in the auteur's work. For Adam Sandler? It was more of a detour.

It's understandable Adam Sandler would go back to his comfort zone after "Punch-Drunk Love" had middling box office returns. But, he didn't give up entirely. In the next six years, Sandler starred in James L. Brooks's "Spanglish," "Reign Over Me," and he collaborated with his old friend Judd Apatow on "Funny People." All three films garnered respectful, lukewarm reviews although not overtly positive. Still, from 2002 to 2009, Sandler tried to crossover four times. He never tried to go overboard, although "Reign Over Me" may have showed him stretching too much in his acting ability. He chose more serious films that didn't force him to be completely different with "Funny People" perhaps being his best performance of them all. But general audiences simply did not care and after Sandler (and Apatow) poured their heart and soul into "Funny People" (which may have been uneven, but it's very underrated), for Sandler, the only choice was to go back to what he does best. After all, his Happy Madison films were consistently making bank at the box office.

But his films after "Funny People" have been unbearably bad. In the mid-naughts, "Anger Management," "50 First Dates," and even 2008's "You Don't Mess With the Zohan" were passable entertainment. They all hovered around the 40% mark on Rottentomatoes and they made a solid return in the box office. After "Funny People"? His most critically successful live-action film was actually last year's "That's My Boy" which managed to get 20% approval from critics. The other films? Grown Ups, Just Go With It, Jack and Jill, Grown Ups 2? None over 19%. And with Jack and Jill and, so far, this weekend's Grown Ups 2, the percentages are well under 10%. The only other filmmakers who have made films that consistently get such horrendous ratings, and still get the chance to make more films, are those idiots who made "Disaster Movie" and "Epic Movie." Has Adam Sandler and Happy Madison really reached that level of suckitude? It seems that way.

Now Rottentomatoes is not the be-all, end-all in evaluating a movie. We all know that. But, it is a pretty good guide and indication of just how far Adam Sandler has fallen with the critics. From respectable, to middling, to disaster. The fact that he's made five of his worst films after "Funny People" indicates to me that he's given up completely. His schtick has just gotten completely stale and way too juvenile for a man that's in his 40s. You wonder, though, if the lack of enthusiasm for his more serious projects is a big reason for this. "You don't wanna see my good movies? Fine. I'll give you the worst shit you'll ever see." "Funny People," after all, literally pokes fun of the life of a comedian who is a complete shell of his former self. Was the film predicting Adam Sandler's future (save for the cancer subplot)? Why does it feel like his humor has gone completely cynical and unbearable? He's never been the comedic master, but would he have even thought to make "Jack and Jill" 15 years ago? I don't think so. It really seems as if he doesn't care anymore.

A change is going to have to come soon. While the critics have never really been on Sandler's side, his last two films failed to cross the $80 million mark. That's after ten straight Happy Madison films, which he starred in, of $100+ million grosses. Audiences are finally starting to turn on Adam Sandler. It's not working with the public, it's definitely not working with the critics. Honestly, it's kind of sad. Is Adam Sandler stuck in a corner here? Is he incapable of crossing over into more dramatic territory and having that film become a huge hit? Is he stuck making these horrendous comedies forever? And will these Happy Madison comedies continue to make less money? Even if "Grown Ups 2" manages to be a hit, that only proves that he still has box office clout when he's starring with other well-known comedians. He's starring in a Happy Madison film next year with Drew Barrymore, together they have managed to produce two films ("50 First Dates," "Wedding Singer") that went over fairly well with audiences and critics alike. Can that film help boost his status with audiences and critics? Or has he gone past the point of no return?

Perhaps he can win the audience back, as long as he stays away from truly terrible concepts. But, it doesn't really look like he wants to back to "serious" films and that's really a shame. At the very least, it'd be nice to see him team up with Judd Apatow again on something that's a bit more focused and allows him to be more normal and affable. Sandler has aged gracefully over the years, but can he really do the same schtick, the same fart jokes, well into his 50s? Ben Stiller has managed to cross over successfully, Jim Carrey and Will Ferrell (for the most part) have managed to as well. Those three also seem to have more goodwill with the critics. Ferrell, in particular, while he's really only ventured into serious territory once ("Stranger Than Fiction"), the films that he does with Adam McKay always manage to be financially and critically successful. Stiller, Carrey, and Ferrell have made plenty of clunkers as well, but not with such consistency as Sandler in the past few years. They seem to genuinely want to entertain audiences and make funny movies, even if they don't always work. Adam Sandler seems to have given up on trying to make good comedies, in earnest. And, with that attitude, it's only a matter of time before audiences decide to turn their back on him for good. Let's hope that doesn't turn out to be the case. It's not as if we don't want Adam Sandler to succeed, he just seems too rich to care. And if he doesn't care, why should we?

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