“I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry,” a comedy about two manly firemen who pretend to be gay, sits atop the weekend box office mountain after grossing $34 million. No big surprise there, Sandler is a regular staple at the high end of the charts. Look at the total performance of his last eight movies, all big, broad comedies:
Click $137 million
The Longest Yard $158 million
50 First Dates $120 million
Anger Management $139 million
Mr. Deeds $126 million
Little Nicky $39 million
Big Daddy $163 million
The Waterboy $161 million
Oh wait, these AREN’T his last eight movies! There are three really great movies not on that list. Not counting the animated “Eight Crazy Nights” and cameos in those awful Rob Schneider movies he keeps producing, Adam Sandler has tried his hand at “serious” acting three times with top-tier directors like Mike Binder, James L. Brooks, and Paul Thomas Anderson. And all three times, the box office has been less than spectacular. Look at this:
Reign Over Me $19 million
Spanglish $42 million
Punch Drunk Love $17 million
Now, here comes the obvious statement from Mr. Film Critic, right? Mr. I-Don’t-Like-Sandler-lowbrow-humor only likes the serious movies, right? I hate to be so predictable, but I am. Guilty as charged. But this blog is not meant to be a criticism of Sandler and his formulaic comedy successes. I am writing in defense of Mr. Sandler. Like “The Transformers,” there really is more to Adam Sandler than meets the eye.
In “Reign Over Me,” he plays a seriously damaged man who lost his entire family in 9/11. Besides being a film about acceptance and friendship (with old college buddy Don Cheadle), it’s also actually quite funny. “Spanglish” has him really dialed-down, while his crazy wife (played by Tea Leoni) gets to chew all the scenery, and he’s very charming. “Punch-Drunk Love” is the quirkiest of the bunch, a real head-scratcher about a toilet plunger salesman with some serious rage issues. It also has the most bizarre, laugh-out-loud moments in any Sandler movie I’ve seen, and a real twisted romance with Emily Watson to boot.
So why do audiences stay away from “serious Sandler”? Do they not buy him in a straight role? Well, that can’t be true, because “50 First Dates” and “The Wedding Singer” proved he can be a romantic lead (as long as its beside Drew Barrymore). Hell, he’s kind of always the straight guy even in his more obnoxious comedies, or at least the underdog.
I have a theory. His formulaic movies sell well because the formula is so damned foolproof. The people that work with Sandler are good. Real good. They help him choose brilliantly simple, non-challenging vehicles for their star. Just like “Chuck and Larry,” you could sum up the seven $100 million grossing comedies on this list in eight words or less. And Sandler himself has probably not even broken an acting sweat in any of them.
I know that sometimes audiences just want to go see a big, dumb movie at the multiplex. That’s why people like Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn will continue to get hit in the balls and Will Ferrell will exhaust every sport possible before his reign comes to an end. But consider this: none of those actors have as good of a track record in their serious roles as Sandler does in his.
If, for you, movies are more than just a brainless way to pass the time, and you want to see Sandler stretch a little bit, rent “Reign Over Me” when it comes out on DVD soon. “Spanglish” and “Punch-Drunk Love” are probably located in the 50-cent bin, where you can rent movies for a full week. Hell, it might take you that long to get over the fact that you’re considering seeing “serious Sandler” flicks. Maybe you’ll need a week to get it out of the case and into your DVD player. Chances are, once you get it in there, you might be surprised. And if the quality of these three movies is any indication, his next “serious” film may be just as great. And there you’ll be, with a head start on everybody, going to see an Adam Sandler movie that can’t be summed up in eight words or less.