Grown Ups (United States, 2010)June 23, 2010
Sometimes even a high profile movie can surprise you. Take Grown Ups, for example. Based on the advance promotional material, this didn't look like the kind of production likely to end Adam Sandler's streak of unremarkable star vehicles (Funny People, Bedtime Stories, You Don't Mess with the Zohan, I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry). But, lo and behold, Grown Ups turns out to be the funniest thing in which Sandler has appeared in years. It's also the most humorous motion picture directed by his frequent collaborator, Dennis Dugan, in at least a decade (and perhaps ever). The strength of Grown Ups is evident early: it doesn't have much of a plot. One of the chief problems with many of Sandler's recent endeavors is that the story has been given too much weight. Here, it's as threadbare as possible - a clothes hanger upon which jokes and sketches can be strung out in the breeze to blow around. It doesn't always work - there are the usual misses and any time the production goes for something dramatic or sentimental, the result is a clunker. But no one in their right mind goes to an Adam Sandler movie for any reason other than to laugh, and Grown Ups delivers.
The death of their junior high basketball coach provides the impetus for a reunion of the five principals of the team - Lenny (Adam Sandler), Eric (Kevin James), Kurt (Chris Rock), Marcus (David Spade), and Rob (Rob Schneider) - some 30 years after they won a championship game. Now, each is encumbered with baggage. Lenny, a big-time Hollywood agent, is married to fashionista Roxanne (Salma Hayek) and has three spoiled kids. Eric is unemployed and his wife, Sally (Maria Bello), believes in breast-feeding past birthday #4. Kurt has become a house-husband and is dominated by his Type A wife, Deanne (Maya Rudolph). Rob has allowed his fetish for older women to take reign; his wife, Gloria (Joyce Van Patten), is in her mid-70s. And Marcus has never really grown up - he's single and loves to party, and that makes him the envy of his friends.
The "action" takes place at a posh lake house where these nine adults and their offspring gather for a Fourth of July weekend that includes lessons about what to do when there's no flat-screen TV and a trip to a water park. Grown Ups has a loose, unforced structure that gives the illusion of a bunch of comrades hanging out. Even the climax, to the extent that there is one, is low-key. There's an improvisational feeling to a lot of the comedy, indicating that even though Adam Sandler and Fred Wolf are the credited screenwriters, there were likely significant contributions by at least the male cast members, all of whom are known as (if not always respected as) comedians. Freed from the constraints of having to follow the beats of a lame plot, they are allowed to hang out and joke around - and that's where most of the successful comedy is born. There are some great one liners, some really silly physical humor, and the obligatory body function jokes, but the ratio of hits-to-misses is surprisingly high.
As is appropriate for a film entitled Grown Ups, Adam Sandler has assumed a more moderate, mature role. Only hints of the oversized, petulant man-child are evident in Lenny; this is the kind of individual one might imagine Happy Gilmore or Billy Madison becoming in middle age. Sandler also shows generosity here, giving most of the best comedic bits to Kevin James (physical pratfalls) and Chris Rock (verbal material and facial expressions). David Spade, often as irritating as pepper spray, is almost palatable and Rob Schneider, one of the most unfunny individuals to be branded as a "comedian," garners laughs (most of which are mean-spirited). The women are underused, but that's to be expected. Grown Ups is for the guys. This is their The Big Chill.
One aspect that fails are the attempts at message moments and dramatic interludes (the importance of family, the difficulties of growing older, etc.). Perhaps Sandler and Dugan are attempting to mimic Judd Apatow's approach to comedies: raunchy humor wrapped around a soft center. If that's the case, the filmmakers have made this center too gooey. Fortunately, Grown Ups never dwells much on the serious material, instead moving quickly to the next comedy skit. The result falls short of a complete meal but provides an easily digestible 100-minute massage of the funny bone.
Grown Ups (United States, 2010)
Cast: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade, Rob Schneider, Salma Hayek Pinault, Maria Bello, Maya Rudolph, Joyce Van Patten
Screenplay: Adam Sandler & Fred Wolf
Cinematography: Theo van de Sande
Music: Rupert Gregson-Williams
U.S. Distributor: Columbia Pictures