“Hey Y, where’s MCA?”
The Scoop: 2010 PG-13, directed by Dennis Dugan and starring Adam Sandler, David Spade and Chris Rock
Tagline: Boys will be boys… some longer than others.
Summary Capsule: Five friends reunite to eat up screentime. Just as fun as it sounds!
Justin’s rating: Are we there yet?
Justin’s review: It wasn’t that long ago at all that I sat down with you to extol the guilty pleasures of Adam Sandler’s Just Go With It, citing a welcome return to the goofy, quirky, generally charming comedies that made him a star. I might’ve mentioned Grown Ups as one of Sandler’s stumbles between the ’90s and today, but I’d yet to actually watch it, mostly because of the claims that 90% of the audiences who had done so went sterile and had their hair turn stark white within days.
However, I didn’t take into account the insidiousness that is Netflix’s recommended instant streaming, which happened to go “Hey guys! Watch Grown Ups! It’s super-groovy!” right as my wife and I were perusing the list. One button-press later, and we were neck-deep in our own Vietnam flashback.
Okay, it’s not that bad. Actually, Grown Ups isn’t “bad” in the sense I was expecting — “bland” is far more like it. If I was a third grade teacher and Grown Ups was a pupil of mine, I’d probably write “Not living up to potential, recommend partial lobotomy and personality reprogramming” on its report card. This is why I am not a teacher.
Because, yes, when I watched Grown Ups, I kept flipping my hands in the air going “Dudes! Why are you wasting so many opportunities and so much talent?” I’m not entirely ruling out the possibility that a film crew just so happened to record Sandler and company at a retreat one weekend and then edited it to make $237 million worldwide.
You see, back in high school, I got my first taste of Adam Sander with his comedy CD “They’re All Gonna Laugh at You!” It was purile, repetitive and dumb, which is why it was a massive hit among me and my friends. Sandler made the CD with the help of several SNL buddies, including David Spade and Rob Schneider, two of several performers that’ve popped up in Sandler’s movies over and over again (another weird fact? Judd Apatow is one of the performers. Yup, THAT Judd Apatow.). Anyway, when Sandler decided to make Grown Ups, I bet there was a half-formed idea in his head to “get the band back together” in a sense — reunite aging comedian pals and let them do what they do best.
Honestly, that sounds like a great idea. There’s a lot of material to be mined from the concept of middle aged guys struggling with nostalgia, friendships and newfound responsibilities. The thing is that this needs a script, not a loose outline of vague ideas, which is what Grown Ups gives us, and is why it all ends up feeling half-baked — tasty in parts, but it doesn’t sit well in the stomach afterward.
The story — such as it is — revolves around five childhood basketball friends (who apparently made up 100% of their school team, since no other teammates were mentioned) who reunite for a 4th of July weekend after their former coach died. Death! It’s cause for celebration!
Each of the five is carrying around various degrees of baggage. Sandler is a successful Hollywood agent (has Sandler ever written himself as unsuccessful?) who has spoiled kids and a pampered life. Kevin James is an affable businessman with… well, he gets a lot of food/fatty jokes thrown at him, but that’s not really a character description. It’s the best we got. Chris Rock is an effeminate house dad who’s got an overbearing mother-in-law and a pregnant wife who doesn’t respect him. Schneider is a new age goof who’s married a woman 30 years his senior. And David Spade is… I guess “single”? That’s really all they gave him to work with. He’s single.
The first way this film fails to live up to potential is that it simply has no plot holding it together. Sure, the cast has an easygoing chemistry that has them sitting around and joking comfortably, but I dare any film student out there to dissect this endeavor and show me where a story arc exists. They get together, spend a weekend in a lake house, and stuff happens. There’s no real conflict, no real resolution (other than a weirdly out-of-tone “confessions” scene), and nothing the characters are trying to accomplish. They just are there.
Grown Ups also fails to really dive into the topic of what growing up is about. I’m not trying to be ultra-intellectual here; I’m saying that the very title of this movie indicates that we’re heading into this territory. Yes, the guys are a bit childish and spend some time reliving a few childhood memories, but they’re not making much of an effort to go back to the past or grow up for the future. It would’ve been a much funnier and smarter film if the guys had been “grown up” until they got together and then regressed into the man-boys that we (guys) really are.
Oddly enough, I kept thinking about Indian Summer while watching this. Indian Summer is another film about childhood buddies coming back together for a weekend as grownups, only in that movie it was in a summer camp setting. Each of the characters in that film, however, had definite character arcs they went through over the weekend, and by the end of the movie you could tell they were changed and had wrestled with becoming older even as part of their minds stayed anchored in the past.
Ultimately, Grown Ups fails to bring the funny, which really is the worst offense. It’s a loaded gun of comedy that only fires on occasion, leaving you to develop facial twitches as obvious jokes and situations leave without so much of an effort on behalf of the cast.
Yes, there are a few funny lines and scenes, and the whole enterprise is easy enough to watch, but there’s so little on this bone that I’m not surprised it made a watery broth instead of a hearty bowl of stew.
- Adam Sandler wears a different New England area college shirt or hat in nearly every scene.
- Originally, Adam Sandler wrote and was set to release this movie in the mid-1990s with actor Chris Farley in the role now played by Kevin James. However, Farley’s tragic passing in 1997 halted production plans and the film was shelved for more than a decade.
Roxanne Chase-Feder: Your son is so cute. How old is he?
Eric Lamonsoff: 48 months.
Kurt McKenzie: [pause] That’s 4.
Eric Lamonsoff: [pause] Yeah.
Becky Feder: [about the bug zapper] Daddy! Where is it taking them?
Marcus Higgins: …Hell.
Lenny Feder: Higgins. Don’t say that.
Marcus Higgins: Oh I’m sorry not Hell… Mexico.
Gloria: Life can be difficult sometimes, it gets bumpy. What with family and kids and things not going exactly like you planed. But that’s what makes it interesting. In life the first act is always exciting. The second act… that is where the depth comes in.
If you liked this movie, try these:
- Indian Summer
- Billy Madison
- The Proposal