Sunday, December 28, 2014

In Defense of, Adam Sandler

There's a lot of dislike for Adam Sandler. He's a polarizing comedian. Not because he's vulgar or crass. Not because he uses controversial material. Mainly because he's a buffoon and has stayed that way for twenty years. If you've seen one of his many movies, you know his comedy is not shooting for much higher than middle school mentality. One thing he has shown over the years is his ginormous heart, and that huge heart has made him into a genuine movie star people should celebrate versus tear down. In defense of Adam Sandler...

I started watching Adam Sandler in middle school on Saturday Night Live in 1990. I bought his records, I attended his comedy concerts and I've seen all of his movies outside of "Just Go with It." Needless to say I have bias towards the longtime funnyman. Do I believe his films to be great pieces of art? Hell to the no. He has plenty of movies I dislike. That said, I do think his comedy serves a worthwhile purpose.

What is that purpose? Little by little Adam Sandler has made a number of movies teaching what it means to be a good person. Now that may seem simplistic and it is. For a very good reason, mass appeal. Sandler's films have mostly been hits that are seen by a wide demographic of people. In other words, movies everyone sees. What is important to note here is the simple messages Sandler hides (mostly in plain sight) in his absurd comedies. He knows full well audiences want a ridiculous comedy, so each time he slips in a simple message like duty and/or acceptance, that can resonate with the wide demographic of audiences his films are reaching on a regular basis.

Let me give you an example; take the stereotypical homophobic high school football player who adores Adam Sandler's early comedies like "Happy Gilmore" and "The Waterboy," then let him later see "I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry" or even "Grown Ups 2." Both films deal with homosexuality in an absurd way, yet both confront accepting homosexuality. Nick Swardson's character in Grown Ups 2 is constantly tormented and harassed by all his pals, not because he is gay, but because he's a buffoon like the rest of them. Soon that homophobic football player may become a little more accepting of other people. Maybe. I get it, I am taking a leap here, Adam Sandler movies can teach people to be more accepting. Stay with me, while they may not be a direct cause, they can certainly help the general masses understand what is socially acceptable. Ha, I love typing that sentence. Adam Sandler and his films are little by little teaching the masses what is socially acceptable. Brilliant.

So why is everybody so gosh-darn negative about Adam Sandler? Leading up to his last release "Blended," I remember reading negative pieces about how his films feel like he and friends go off and shoot a movie while on vacation. Read that sentence again, go ahead I'll wait. That meme all my students were saying a year ago, "Why you mad bro?" seems very fitting right now. Why are you mad that an actor who has a long line of successful comedies is going off to vacation destinations like Africa, Hawaii, etc to make movies people will enjoy for under $10? The common response is, because he's better than that. This pompous defense is based off the fact Adam Sandler has from time to time gone beyond his usual shtick in a few dramatic portrayals, most notably "Punch Drunk Love" and "Funny People." Apparently we've become Sandler's mentors deciding that he should focus his efforts on dramatic roles that challenge him versus comedies that appeal to the masses. How high and mighty of us.

I'd like to circle back to my position that Adam Sandler is little by little making movies that teach people what it means to be a better person. Keep up if you can. "Billy Madison" is about getting an education, not a bad idea to learn a few things. "Happy Gilmore" is all about helping family and respecting your elders, unless they are Bob Barker. "Bullet Proof" is about loyalty, something that Sandler holds dear. "The Wedding Singer" is about listening to someone, not that fake bullshit listening most of us do, but honest listening. "The Waterboy" has a few strong messages in it, but here's where accepting people for who they are really starts a trend in Sandler's comedies. "Big Daddy" is all about responsibility, but also a lot about humility. "Little Nicky" brings back both acceptance and loyalty. "Mr. Deeds" hits on community and how important it is to help not just ourselves but the community at large. "Eight Crazy Nights" plays to the same tune as Mr. Deeds. "Anger Management" is another lesson in humility. "50 First Dates" is the ultimate test of love and what you may be willing to do for another person. "The Longest Yard" confronts race. "Click" reminds us that the simple things in life matter. "I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry" is focused on social equality. "You Don't Mess with the Zohan" mirrors I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry but with a refined hand on cultural stereotypes. "Bedtime Stories" has charity. "Grown Ups" circles loyalty and friendship again. "Jack and Jill" embraces the happiness of others. "That's My Boy" sees Sandler return to responsibility. "Hotel Transylvania" hits on acceptance again, leaning now more on individuality. "Grown Ups 2" parades duty and a sense of belonging in friendship but also affinity towards family. "Blended" his most recent, focuses on the importance in parenting.

All of the titles listed above in some small way have a social message within them and while they won't end up on the IMDb Top 250 movies of all time list, they have their value. They may not be challenging Adam Sandler for a portrayal that will get him personal acclaim, but instead they are comedies that little by little challenge the audience to change their perception of what is socially acceptable. Is that so bad? Is it necessary to tear down one of the more notable working movie stars in America right now? Because he's not out there making Punch Drunk Love over and over? The answer is no. Whether Adam Sandler is being a funny man, a serious man, a family man, or a movie star he's someone people should be celebrating versus tearing down.