‘So I guess this is growing up’
For better or worse there are few figures as polarising in contemporary film than Adam Sandler.
Critically reviled, but adored by his fans, the American comic has more than left a mark on recent cinema.
With his latest Netflix film The Week Of, directed and co-written by regular collaborator Robert Smigel (Hotel Transylvania), Sandler plays Kenny Lustige, the loving father of a daughter set to marry the son of Dr. Kirby Cordice (Chris Rock, Top Five). Chronicling the seven days leading up to the wedding of Sarah (Allison Strong, The Blacklist) and Tyler (Roland Buck III, Sleight), a series of hijinks ensues with Kenny eager to please everybody – much to the chagrin of Kirby who looks on with disdain at every turn.
Cultivating a reputation for jokes reliant on bodily functions, laughs at the expense of marginalised members of society and a strong helping of third-act sentiment designed to tug at the heart strings, The Week Of features much of what we have come to expect from Sandler. But in spite of these traits, there is a self-awareness that the carefree persona he has adopted for so long has had to finally grow up.
So why did things start out so well before falling down for Sandler?
Having started out on SNL in the early 90s, a string of hits including Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore tapped into a well-meaning, but often volatile generation of young men looking for their place in the world while living without real consequences.
Showing signs of emotional depth while retaining a youthful immaturity in The Wedding Singer and Big Daddy, his dramatic strengths were on full display when P.T. Anderson came knocking in 2002.
Delivering a Golden Globe nominated performance in Punch-Drunk Love as a man filled with insecurities that manifested into violent rage, the path towards becoming a serious dramatic lead appeared to be a logical progression for an actor approaching 40.
Instead of taking the plunge fully, Sandler’s filmography throughout the remainder of the 2000s was an each way bet. For every aggrieved widow portrayed in Reign Over Me, three I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry’s satisfied audiences eager for fart jokes.
Seemingly finding the perfect avenue for serious and silly in Judd Apatow’s Funny People, the underwhelming box-office laid clear a view that if the all the public wanted was poop, he would be more than willing to serve it up in spades.
Spending most of the 2010s using the premise of making films as a means of taking vacations to exotic locations alongside a host of regular accomplices (Dennis Dugan, Allen Covert and Nick Swarsdon were more than willing to take a pay cheque), the likes of Grown Ups (1 & 2), Just Go With It, Jack and Jill and Blended saw Sandler try to evoke the same sense of nostalgia that made him a star, while refusing to embrace his age.
Linking up with Netflix in 2015, a multi-picture deal looked to have destined him to a world separate from detractors who decried his false sentimentality and privileged antics as the embodiment of the immortal speech from Billy Madison – “everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it”. Delivering the rare Rotten Tomatoes 0% with The Ridiculous Six and a comparatively glowing 5% for The Do-Over, the career of Adam Sandler as a marketable star and actor with any apparent passion for serious work appeared to be a relic of a bygone era.
But with 2017s Sandy Wexler and an acclaimed supporting role in Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories, vital signs for his career began to re-emerge.
Which brings us back to The Week Of.
For the first time in a while there is a genuine feeling of empathy from Sandler. As a successful advertising executive needing to land a big client despite living in opulence, the believability was completely absent. Yet as a blue-collar family man too proud to take money from the wealthy father of the groom, there is a relatable quality in which the accumulation of family drama threatens to boil over. In the past the ticking time bomb nature of his characters has alluded to unresolved emotional maturity, but in coming to terms with life at 50, this is the first time he has truly felt like an adult with children of his own in real life.
As a mainstream American comedy The Week Of is fine with enough moments of laughter to ensure a funeral doesn’t break out (despite one taking place during the second act), but the relatability of the situation makes for drama worth holding onto with the inevitable third act proclamation of love and acceptance feeling earned.
Far from the incendiary provocateur regarded as one of the greatest comedians of all time, Chris Rock is willing as a curmudgeon fulfilling a well-worn character arc, while supporting roles from Rachel Dratch (Saturday Night Live) and Steve Buschemi (Fargo, Boardwalk Empire) keep up the momentum. However, at just under two hours there is certainly content that should have been left on the cutting room floor to get it down to a lean 90-minute runtime.
While opponents will likely be unconvinced and fans somewhat let down by the greater dramatic tone from his previous star vehicles, The Week Of shows Sandler in a place that few would have thought possible five years ago. There are still remnants of a man stuck in the past – mental illness, awkward racial interactions and the exploitation of people living with a disability aren’t always handled with grace – but despite occasional instances where the debauchery of the morally wrong, yet vicariously glorious That’s My Boy permeates through, The Week Of signals a potential shift back to the career trajectory envisioned post-Punch-Drunk Love.
If Grown Ups 2 was Sandler at his most juvenile in defiantly refusing to embrace middle age, The Week Of is the acceptance that at some point acting like a kid isn’t funny anymore.