As both a comedian and a dramatic actor, Adam Sandler is only as strong as those who surround him. When he’s working under the supervision of someone like Paul Thomas Anderson (“Punch Drunk Love”) or Judd Apatow (“Funny People”), it’s insane to see that the guy has yet to be nominated for an Oscar. But when he subjects himself to further humiliation in the name of a cheap laugh, seen mostly in his Happy Madison productions, it’s difficult to surmise how and why Sandler became famous in the first place. They’re not all abysmally bad but, as a huge fan of Sandler’s classic comedies, watching “Jack & Jill” was an experience that can be described only as cataclysmically upsetting.
Of Sandler’s numerous Happy Madison costars, Barrymore is the only one that seems to really inspire Sandler to do good work. In “Blended,” the two stars find themselves on a disastrous blind date at the local Hooters. Jim (Sandler) manages a Dick’s Sporting Goods and is a recent widower, while Lauren (Barrymore) is recently divorced and owns and operates Closet Queens, a service whereby she and her co-worker/closest friend Jen (Wendi McLendon-Covey) organize the closets of the rich, famous, and busy. Jen has been getting serious with her new boyfriend, Dick, and they’re all set to take a family trip to Africa with Dick’s five children, but when the two suddenly break up, the trip is up for grabs. Lauren wants it so that she can make her two sons, Tyler (Kyle Red Silverstein) and Brendan (Braxton Beckham), happy for their spring break. But Jim, who happens to work for Dick, also wants the trip to impress his three girls; Espn (Emma Fuhrmann), Lou (Alyvia Alyn Lind), and Hilary (Bella Thorne). Somehow, through the power of movie magic, both families are able to get the trip and don’t realize that they’re both going until they arrive at the hotel in Africa.
Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore have always made a great on-screen couple, and “Blended” is no exception. For the first time in what seems like forever, Sandler looks like he’s enjoying his time on-screen, and his performance is one of the most credible things he’s done in years. After a shaky opening scene, the film establishes an agreeable rhythm after a hilarious drugstore scene works its magic utilizing only the charm of its two leads and some honest-to-God jokes instead of the vague outlines of an amusing thought, which seem to have populated almost every Sandler script of the past decade. Sandler’s humor has become much more referential and void of context in recent years, and while “Blended” is guilty of this on numerous occasions, many of the film’s punchlines revolve around character and scenario instead of a desperate need to include a phallic reference in every scene.
Frank Coraci, the film’s director, is responsible for much of Sandler’s best comedic work, including “Click,” “The Waterboy”, and “The Wedding Singer,” Sandler’s first collaboration with Barrymore. “Blended” shows the director struggling, once again, to be an actual filmmaker scene after scene. To start, the film features some of the worst cinematography you’re liable to see on the big screen this year. The palette is both too colorful and not colorful enough, and every scene looks like it was shot while the DP was still setting up the camera. There’s also a fundamental tension between Coraci’s cinematic tendencies and the Sandler Checklist that must be fulfilled in every one of the actor’s Happy Madison productions. There’s plenty of unnecessary scatalogical humor to be found throughout, but there’s also a surprising amount of emotional insight that rarely rings false. Unfortunately, “Blended” struggles to, no pun intended, blend these two aspects together in a satisfying way, resulting in a strange mixture of gross-out humor and honest human drama that never quite gels the way Coraci may have intended. As a comedy, the laughs are merely a distraction for the shocking amount of depth that can be found beneath the film’s pee-stained surface, and it’s a shame that the tone doesn’t stay as consistent as it could have had Sandler agreed to stop pandering to his audience.
It would be irresponsible for me to recommend “Blended.” Sandler’s humor isn’t for everyone, and who’s to blame them? The sheer volume of terrible films he’s released in the past decade has turned him into the Chernobyl of comedy. But Coraci is a good director, Barrymore is a good co-star, and “Blended” is kind of a good movie. And you know what? I laughed. Some trained professionals would even surmise that I laughed a lot and, unlike the travesties of “Jack & Jill” and “Grown Ups,” it’s a film that treats its audience with something more than utter contempt. Sure, it’s still a glorified vacation for Sandler to take with his friends but it’s the comedian’s best straight comedy in a long time, and it marks a self-aware recognition of his own recently aggressive mediocrity. I doubt that this film will be a massive turning point in Sandler’s career, but seeing him attached to Jason Reitman’s upcoming adaptation of Chad Kultgen’s “Men, Women & Children” gives me some hope that perhaps Sandler will start to take himself, and his audience, a little more seriously.
May 23, 2014
1 hr. 57 min.
Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Bella Thorne, Kevin Nealon, Terry Crews, Joel McHale, and Wendi McLendon-Covey