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Non-Review Review: Grown Ups

It’s very difficult to offer a movie that takes a cynical “Hollywood type” back to their roots. There are many reasons. The most obvious is that the type of person making the movie is a cynical Hollywood type and there’s something of an irony about making a film about the roots they’ve lost contact with – oftentimes it is more difficult to offer a grounded version of reality than it is to depict an alien invasion or a thoroughly ridiculous premise. Grown Ups is the second film this year which sees Adam Sandler playing a character attempting to reconnect with the common man – perhaps a timely theme in light of the recession, when the glitz and glamour of Hollywood stand in even starker contrast to the day-to-day lives of regular folks. However, if I didn’t know better, I’d think Sandler (whose production company produced the film and who co-wrote the script) is having something of a midlife crisis.

Not exactly a deep pool of talent...

Grown-Ups is the story of a bunch of five middle-aged guys, all fulfilling various stereotypes and archetypes, reuniting at their old coach’s funeral. Adam Sandler plays a Hollywood talent agent married to Salma Hayek’s fashion design, who brings the nanny with them to the funeral. David Spade is the eternal manchild, in all his slutty eighties glory. Chris Rock is the henpecked house husband (and doesn’t the movie think it’s hilarious that he cooks the dinner). Rob Schneider is the “feely” one with a fetish for older chicks and with two inexplicably attractive daughters. And Kevin James is… well, up until the last twenty minutes his character doesn’t have a defining trait, save that he’s “fat”.

The five guys and their families all move into the old lodge together and bond, reunited like when they wer kids. Along the way, they all bond over how much they’ve changed and maybe stopped appreciating the simple things in life. Although Sandler’s character is the only one with an overt tie to Hollywood, it’s interesting to note that all five friends got the hell out of dodge and – when they return – there isn’t a friendly face to greet them. In fact, for a film about getting in contact with your roots, the locals (presumably the people that these characters grew up around) feature remarkably little, save for a couple of antagonistic hicks. Perhaps it’s an indication of just how self-centred this bunch of people are – I’d consider the community I grew up with to be at least as important as the geographical surroundings.

However, what becomes abundantly clear about twenty minutes into the film, is that this bunch of people are just not nice individuals. They literally sit around whining and moaning about each other, showing little or no respect for one another beyond satisfying their own amusements. One of the group is a vegan? Smack him in the face with some bacon. One is overweight? Constantly mock him. One has a wife who is (considerably) older than him? Make jokes at her expense even though she’s new to the group and thus undoubtedly uncomfortable.

When the local hicks take to referring to Sandler’s character as “Hollywood”, it’s hard not root for them – seriously, he’s a jackass. Of course, this is the depiction of small town life drawn from the mind of someone who lives in Los Angeles, so they are all dumb and confrontational.

My own personal favourite example of the movie’s blatant hypocrisy comes from the way the group treats Sandler’s aforementioned nanny. Of course, having a nanny is a status symbol that the character wishes to avoid – so one would think that he might simply give her a holiday or some time off. Instead he takes her with him, and this leads to a serious of awkward jokes where he claims she’s a live-in student – and the movie portrays her as too dumb to figure out what’s going on (she just blindly follows his half-considered order to “study for the big test”). However, the group never really treats her as a person in her own right, despite how ashamed Sandler is of having a servant. Indeed, so heavily objectified is the character that the only lead who has a casual conversation with her is accused of merely wanting sex.

... you have to urn it...

All of this would be forgiven (okay, maybe only slightly) were the movie actually funny. But it isn’t. There’s the odd wise crack (I like the extended cameo from a certain collaborator on Big Daddy which comes near the end), but not nearly enough. Even the grossout humour (various characters engaging in various bodily functions and landing in various disgusting piles of various types of filth) isn’t particularly inspired. I won’t be overly cynical and suggest that this is one of the most annoying ensembles ever put together, but the cast simply have no energy in them – they sell the shallow individuals they are meant to be on their reunion, but there’s no growth whatsoever (despite a really awkward “we’re all liars” revelation in the final twenty minutes).

Indeed, wasting Salma Hayek and Maria Bello in supporting roles is a crime – though it’s great to see both on screen, neither really does anything of note. Hayek in particular comes across as a horrendously written character who seems to exist mainly to fill a plot-shaped hole rather than form an interesting character of herself. It’s a shame that her recent return to the screen – in this and The Vampire’s Assistant – has not been nearly as wonderous as her earlier work, but such is life.

The ending really ticked me off and is a perfect example of my problem with the film. Note that the rest of the review contains spoilers. Continue at your own peril, but don’t pretend that you weren’t warned.

At the end, the five guys – having learnt their life lessons – decide to challenge the native yokels to a game of basket ball, replaying the pivotal moment which opened the movie. Now, this is where the moral of the story comes in handy. Having learnt that they should be honest (both to themselves and to others), Sandler’s character decides to put this into practice by… throwing a shot and letting the locals win the match.

It’s even more patronising than it sounds because the implication of this moment is:

  • these five guys are just better than the locals and could have won if they wanted to
  • the only way that the other team were going to win would be if our five leads let them
  • awww, isn’t a cute that these plebs will get to taste victory just once in their pathetic, nanny-less lives? (and all because you let them win)

In a movie which just had the characters extol the virtues of being honest with each other, it seems a bit much and a bit cheap.

Sadly it isn’t out of step with the rest of the film.

Grown Ups is a film which lives a lie. On one hand, these modern Olympians are to be lauded for effectively engaging on what must be some sort of social outreach program – only with minimal amounts of touching. On the other hand, isn’t it great the way that the common people can accomplish stuff when these sophisticated individuals let them?

4 Responses

  1. I hate this movie so very much. And who believes that Rob Schneider, Kevin James, or Chris Rock were at any point all-star caliber athletes?

  2. Well, as much as David Spade or Adam Sandler 🙂

  3. This was easily the worst movie I’ve seen this year, and that includes The Last Airbender. Appalling rubbish.

    • It must be something to be the worst film of this year.

      I’m seriously considering a bottom ten, but that might be too negative.

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