Adam Sandler has almost universal name recognition as one of the biggest stars in comedy. That is a fact and none of the following will change that. But let’s be honest, he’s completely phoning it in now. Anyone with a cursory knowledge of the 90’s knows that was the heyday for Adam Sandler’s career. He was an SNL standout that was able to pivot into iconic movies like Billy Madison, The Waterboy and Happy Gilmore. These are movies you still quote with your friends and look back on fondly. You probably even stop to watch a few minutes when one of them pops up on TBS. But over time, Adam Sandler’s career and his movie roles have changed dramatically from those that made people love him.
The change in Sandler’s career did not happen overnight. Big Daddy (1999) was the last of what we’d consider the early mainstream comedy hits for Sanders. He followed that up with the critically acclaimed Punch-Drunk Love (2002), showcasing a depth of acting talent that was unexpected. At that point, many thought Sandler would start taking on more serious roles on a frequent basis. That’s a natural progression for many actors who desire further respect in the industry and have the desire to challenge themselves (think Steve Carell or Kristen Wiig). But fans of Sandler’s comedy did not need to wait long for a return to original form in Anger Management (2003). Around this same time Sandler also reunited with his Wedding Singer co-star Drew Barrymore to film 50 First Dates (2004) on location in Hawaii, an experience that may have shaped some of his later role selection…
The 2000’s in general were a weird mixed bag for Sandler who alternated between highbrow critical darlings like Spanglish (2004) and Funny People (2009), and shockingly stupid (and fairly offensive) comedies like I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry (2007) or the oddball You Don’t Mess with the Zohan (2008). But as the 2010’s began, so did Sandler’s latest phase: Cashing in while relaxing hard.
In 2010 Adam Sandler filmed Grown Ups and discovered the formula he appears to want to use for the rest of his career. Grown Ups brought Sandler together with pals Chris Rock, Rob Schneider, David Spade, Kevin James, Colin Quinn and several others to film on location in the vacation town of Essex, Massachusetts. The family oriented film made 162 million dollars despite terrible reviews. And thus began the leisurely second act of Sandler’s career. Since Grown Ups he has repeated the same move of filming unadventurous family movies in beautiful vacation destinations with his buddies. Examples include: Just Go With It (2011, Nick Swardson, Hawaii), That’s My Boy (2012, Swardson and Andy Samberg, Cape Cod Area), Jack and Jill (2011, Swardson and David Spade), Grown Ups 2 (2013, same cast as before, Cape Cod area), Blended (2014, Kevin Nealon and Drew Barrymore, South Africa), Pixels (2015, James, Toronto), and now most recently The Do-Over (2016, David Spade, Puerto Rico). All were poorly rated by critics but did fairly well at the box office (note: The Do-Over was made for Netflix, Sandler got paid for that one though too, so don’t worry).
It’s at this point in the article that you are likely expecting a scolding of Mr. Sandler for no longer taking risks or challenging himself as an actor. But you will not find one here. Because Adam Sandler’s career choices recently are exactly what I would expect myself to do if I was tremendously wealthy and had nothing to prove to anyone. I would love to go on vacation with several of my old friends each year to somewhere beautiful. And while we are there we could bang together some kind of family comedy. We wouldn’t have to care what critics will think because people will watch based on name recognition alone. And we’d just keep making more money and having fun.
Adam Sandler has figured out the key to happiness.
The only complaint I will offer about Adam Sandler’s career choices over the last few years is that he only seems interested in playing cool guys now. In most of his roles over the last few years he’s successful, suave, and does great with the ladies. Those are not the qualities of the early Sandler characters that everyone loved. In his early movies he was almost always a loser, an outcast, a slob. It is as an underdog that we love Sandler most. Not as a wealthy playboy dentist.
But hey, who am I to criticize since Adam Sandler is showing he can do whatever he wants. And a lot of people will still watch. Even if it’s basically just a well-edited video compilation of what he did with his friends on vacation last year.