Adam Sandler's Hollywood endurance is a puzzling quirk of the universe I've never understood. It's one of those phenomena that seemingly evade all logic—like how Brits magically sound American when they sing or why Macklemore thought he was gay in the third grade because he liked to draw.
Last month, video evidence surfaced of six Native American actors walking off of the set of Sandler's latest film The Ridiculous Six. In the leaked footage, we can hear a dispute between the several actors and one of Sandler's producers over the use offensive Native American stereotypes. "If you don't like the script, then leave," the actors are told.
Understandably, the disagreement produced an onslaught of criticism from the public, with Native American actors and media critics weighing in to what seemed like Sandler's long-awaited and much needed comedic tribunal.
Most of us growing up in the 1980s or '90s are familiar with his films and brand of comedy. When I think of Adam Sandler, I mostly think of teenage boys and fart jokes. Occasionally, though, he did produce some beloved movies like Happy Gilmore and Punch Drunk Love. But for the most part, Adam Sandler's name is never one you hear uttered by trendy millennial types whose comedic palettes prefer the likes of Amy Schumer and Aziz Ansari.
Collective disdain for Sandler has made him the subject of numerous think pieces, social analyses, and Razzie award nominations (ten, to be exact). If you google "Adam Sandler bad actor" it becomes clear that he tops most of the "worst actor of all time" lists. And yet, despite our proclivity to hate him, it seems we quietly still continue to consume him.
Sandler's net worth is rumoured to be valued at over $300 million, and other than a few flops, many of his films still fare well at the box office. In late 2014, Netflix even signed an agreement with him to produce four films directly onto the online streaming service. Not bad for an actor whose comedy has a history of racial epithets and penis jokes.
Maybe there was something I was missing. Perhaps Sandler wasn't being secretly funded by a well-oiled cult full of Midwestern dads and teenage boys. Was it possible that beneath his seemingly transgressive brand of comedy lay a certain magic—one that has quietly stolen the hearts of North Americans? Could there be something redeeming in Adam Sandler? I had to know.
And so began my sharp decline into the most sadistic task ever known to any writer: 19 hours of Adam Sandler movies.
I chose six of his films I'd never seen in order to keep any biases to a minimum. Like most other North American kids, I was already familiar with a few of his classic works, often syndicated on TV, so I settled on a playlist that spanned time periods and supposedly even comedic genres. (Sandler purists will note that this only adds up to 12 hours and 15 minutes. I took notes, watched some of his stand up on YouTube, and had food and bathroom breaks to round out the 19 hours. I'm not a masochist.)
Grown Ups 2 (2013)
I decided to begin with Grown Ups 2, a film I'd heard was trying and would require the eagerness and naiveté of a person who doesn't quite understand the dark journey they've voluntarily embarked on. The film featured a solid ensemble cast of Chris Rock, Selma Hayak, Kevin James, and David Spade, and—just like every publication said—was an utter disaster. The plotline was so fractured that I began to wonder if I was watching the wrong movie or some sort of extended spoof. I emerged from the film 90 minutes later disoriented and confused, my notes jumbled and full of mostly unanswered questions.
-A yoga class where women are instructed to slap their asses as a part of their technique, +10 points for feminism.
-Taylor Lautner's crotch being bitten by a deer, the only self-aware part of the entire film.
Little Nicky (2000)
My second Sandler journey transported me back to the year 2000. In this film, he plays the spawn of Satan (literally) who decides to take up residence in New York City after his father (the devil) falls prey to the evil doings of his two older brothers. The movie is actually not half bad and I paid attention throughout the entire thing—likely because it was packed with pop culture references and New York backdrops from a pre-9/11 world.
-Seeing Adam Sandler's emo haircut exist in a pre-MySpace era. Was this a subtle hint at what was to arrive in 2004? Is Sandler a master trend-forecaster? We'll never know.
50 First Dates (2004)
I took a break to respond to texts and fix a snack before diving into movie number three. The premise of 50 First Dates is simple: Sandler, a marine biologist and serial commitment-phobe, falls for Drew Barrymore in a run-of-the-mill romantic comedy. Only there's one catch: Barrymore suffered a head trauma in an accident, and each day her character awakes with no memory of the day before. The movie is cute but predictable and about halfway through, I started trying to decipher whether Sandler's shell necklaces (ever-present and inspiring) matched with the mood of the scene.
Jack and Jill (2011)
Before heading into movie four and hour eight, I noticed my butt was getting a little tingly so I did some yoga while watching some of Sandler's old stand-up on YouTube. I should have listened to the numbing sensation creeping up my legs, warning me of the numbing feeling that would soon be creeping into my brain after 15 minutes of Jack and Jill.
In the film, Sandler plays a set of twins (the titular Jack and Jill) who are forced to spend time together after Jill ventures to visit her more successful twin brother, Jack. The film plays on all sorts of class stereotypes and bills Jill as the working class, bumbling idiot, while her refined brother watches in dismay as she ruins Thanksgiving dinner and generally make a fool out of herself, only to semi-save the day and enlighten them both.
The entire premise of the movie is so offensive (a man dressing up as a woman—what a joke! Poor people—they're basic! But wise!) that the details are almost irrelevant. I should note that about halfway through, I went around the corner and bought a six-pack before reluctantly finishing the film.
-Drinking my six-pack
You Don't Mess with the Zohan (2008)
I kicked off my second day of Adam Sandler with a movie that can truly only be described as a less funny version of Borat. I cued up You Don't Mess with the Zohan as I cleaned my apartment, and only semi-understood what was happening. Sandler played (I think) a former Israeli army commander who moves to New York to pursue his dream of being a barber. I did catch the end, though, when he reunites with his dad and gives him a haircut. Perhaps this serves as a greater allegory for accepting children of all stripes. But probably not.
-Finding out Judd Apatow helped write this film.
The Waterboy (1998)
I thought The Waterboy was the heart-wrenching story of a kid with a speech impairment triumphing against all odds to win the hearts and minds of his NCAA team. Expecting something similarly cheesy to The Blind Side, I was disappointed and stopped paying attention 20 minutes in when it became obvious that the film was another Sandler special. I could not tell you what happens in The Waterboy other than that it's heavily implied he gets laid in the end.
-Realizing I was only one Adam Sandler film away from the end.
Funny People (2009)
I decided to end on a high note and settled into Funny People with a renewed sense of determination. It was written, produced, and directed by Judd Apatow and co-starred Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill when they more closely resembled one another. Sandler plays a famous comedian who is diagnosed with a terminal form of leukemia. In a strange act of valour, he takes Rogen, an amateur comedian, under his wing and learns the importance of his priorities when a plot twist sends his cancer unexpectedly into remission.
I actually enjoyed Funny People but there was admittedly one uncomfortable part. During a stand-up show, Rogen's character makes a joke about comedians committing suicide and specifically delivers a line where he claims, "Robin Williams will be up here next slitting his wrists."
-Seth Rogen because he's so damn likeable.
Overall Film Wrap
Overall thoughts: With the exception of one film, they were truly all awful.
Immediately following the end of Funny People, I banished Adam Sandler's face from my sight and promptly took a four-hour nap. Despite many obstacles (my waning attention span, the urge to cheat), I felt a weird sense of pride and accomplishment for having stuck with such an absurd goal, and I wondered if this made me some sort of Guinness World Record Holder.
It's an interesting thing to explore Sandler's career. While some comedians get better with time, finessing their humour and ridding themselves of offensive jabs, Sandler's humour seems to have done the impossible and somehow regressed. Almost all of the films I watched repeatedly featured stabs at people with intellectual disabilities and, of course, his infamous and trademarked Baby Voice.
In an era where people are arguably demanding smarter and more socially-aware comedy, Sandler's refusal to evolve with the times highlights the tragic nature of our own culture and the kind of content many of us are still willing to accept and proliferate.
As much as he might be despised as a comedian by many people who grew up in the '80s and '90s, he is also strangely something of an American staple. In times of great social and political unrest, Adam Sandler will be there for you. Even if you can't trust the government or the police or your tap water, you can trust that every summer, Adam Sandler will dutifully release another horrible, Adam Sandler-y film.
So what exactly did I learn in my 19 intimate hours studying Mr. Sandler? That he's the human example of the selfie stick: trite, awful, and, frankly, our own damn fault.
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