His brand of comedy might be puerile, gleefully lowbrow and juvenile, but there’s no denying that in his heyday Adam Sandler made some genuinely hilarious films.
They might not be works of art but for a certain section of film fans they were adored and, in the case of Happy Gilmore, still re-watched by this writer – plus, he also created the single best movie villain of all time, Shooter McGavin!
Sandler’s films from his late ’90s peak are hilarious and part of the wider popularity of lowbrow comedies featuring schlubby man-children behaving terribly that was essentially started by Steve Martin in The Jerk and continued through The Farrelly Brothers right through to the Frat Pack films of the Noughties.
Many of these films, like Dumb & Dumber, Happy Gilmore, American Pie and Old School, all plough a similar furrow and are considered comedy classics today. The man-child schtick is such a comedy trope in American cinema that it has even crossed the gender divide in Apatow female-led vehicles like Bridesmaids and Trainwreck.
Take a look at a list of the best comedies made in the last 20 years and a large percentage of them will follow this pattern – perhaps perfected in Step Brothers – and there’s no denying that Sandler was a part of this. He belongs in the canon.
But where and when did he turn from a maker of genuinely funny films to the man most associated with the abysmal disasters he’s been serving up for the better part of the last decade?
Sandler, who turns 50 today, made his breakthrough – and perfected his angry man-child with a heart of gold character – in 1995’s Billy Madison which while not critically lauded was a reasonable box office success, taking in $25 million (£19m).
The success of Billy Madison jump-started Sandler’s career and kicked off a winning streak of comedies that were genuinely well-received, including box office successes like The Wedding Singer and Happy Gilmore.
This streak couldn’t even be derailed by the misses, like the terrible Little Nicky.
In the middle of this period, the ‘Sandman’ probably had his critical zenith when Paul Thomas Anderson utilised his child-like charm and explosive aggression to perfection in Punch Drunk Love, a more serious turn that Sandler repeated for 2007’s Reign Over Me.
But in the timeline of Sandler, it seems like somewhere around 2005, after the release of the lukewarm 50 First Dates, Sandler’s films stopped being crass but charming, and instead became crass but shit.
Which begs the question – what happened? Well, there are several possible theories…
It’s Some Kind Of Weird Performance Art To Deliberately Ruin His Career
Fed up with making lowbrow but endearing comedies and tired of the Hollywood system, Sandler now only makes irredeemably awful films as some kind of weird performance art.
Doing what’s known in the industry as ‘the Eddie Murphy’, he is hellbent on torpedoing his entire career as some kind of commentary on the fickle nature of celebrity by making piss-poor films where he plays multiple characters, puts on a weird accent, and/or does drag (Jack & Jill).
Each film he makes will become more elaborately unnecessary than the last, until the release of his magnum opus – a film in which Sandler plays every single character and nothing happens except him walking around a mansion wearing clown make-up and a fat suit, slipping on banana skins and farting for seven straight hours.
It’ll be like a vomit-flecked Disneyland version of Waiting For Godot, that instead of making you laugh, makes you question the very value of laughter itself in a world bereft of meaning.
Then, as a final salvo, he catches a glimpse of his own reflection in a mirror and uses that patented Sandler aggression to fist fight his own bloodied reflection while laughing and crying at the same time.
He Just Stopped Caring
Alternatively, maybe he’s just become jaded and cynical with how poorly his films are received, and as a big middle finger to critics, he’ll star in literally anything that will guarantee him $10 million and a portion of the gross.
He’s now just a kind of Adam Sandler automaton who roams from film set to film set, dancing on cue with a glazed faraway look in his eye until the director yells cut or an assistant comes along to drive him home.
Maybe He Can Just No Longer Tell Good From Bad
It could be that after nearly three decades in Hollywood, Sandler is just no longer able to tell what’s actually good from bad.
There’s a chance he read/wrote Pixels/Don’t Mess With The Zohan/Grown Ups/Jack & Jill and genuinely thought they’d be funny and not the cinematic equivalent of urinating into your own face.
It Doesn’t Matter, He Still Made Some Classics
At the end of the day, like every great band or actor who were once relevant and made great films or music but have now fallen out of favour, we can always remember Sandler for The Wedding Singer, Big Daddy and Happy Gilmore.
And be thankful that, before he started bottle-feeding us his own warm piss, he made some damned funny films.
Happy Birthday Adam!