Don’t let the title of Adam Sandler’s latest movie fool you: Grown Ups is as juvenile as anything in the actor’s filmography.
At 43, Sandler remains mainstream America’s go-to goof-off, a guy whose perpetual adolescence has made him one of the most successful box-office stars of the last 20 years in such movies as Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, The Wedding Singer, The Waterboy, Big Daddy, Little Nicky, Mr. Deeds and You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, most of which he co-wrote and co-produced.
Yet since Paul Thomas Anderson cast him as — what else? — the emotionally stunted man-child in 2002’s Punch-Drunk Love, Sandler has attempted to stray from his goofy, lowbrow formula. If Anderson’s artfully crafted, off-kilter love story ultimately suffers from Sandler’s lack of range, James L. Brooks’ Spanglish (2004) somehow benefits from it — Sandler has never been better (or more affecting) than as a celebrated L.A.-based chef who chooses to stay with his monstrous, cuckolding wife (Tea Leoni) rather than take up with his more sensitive Mexican maid (the acutely fetching Paz Vega).
Mike Binder’s Reign Over Me (2007), Sandler’s first straight-up drama, and Judd Apatow’s unjustly overlooked Funny People (2009) further prove that he has the ability to move beyond his doofus persona. The question is whether Sandler — a guy who, like most comedians, yearns for acceptance above all else — has the patience to accept box-office mediocrity. Funny People was one of the biggest bombs of last year, and, of the aforementioned formula-busters, only Spanglish did decent business.
Which brings us back to Grown Ups, a classic Sandler/Happy Madison production (a broad, guy-centric, oddly earnest comedy featuring everything from fart jokes to breastfeeding gags) about five grade-school buddies who, along with their families, get together for the first time in 30 years over a Fourth of July weekend. The movie’s tagline says it all: “Picking up where they left off, they discover that growing older doesn’t mean growing up.”
Taking the premise a meta-step further, Sandler cast a bunch of old buddies as his old buddies: Kevin James, Chris Rock, Rob Schneider and David Spade.
Even Colin Quinn, whose friendship with Sandler goes back to the 1980s stand-up circuit, has a small role. Adding to the family-reunion theme is Dennis Dugan, a director whose long-running collaboration with the actor dates back to Happy Gilmore.
Elsewhere, akin to the curious casting of Winona Ryder as his love interest in Mr. Deeds, Sandler recruited Salma Hayek to play his wife in the movie. Maria Bello and Maya Rudolph round out Grown Ups’ core cast, all of whom were recently on hand for a press day at Malibu Lake Mountain Club, a countryfied resort of sorts tucked away in the picturesque mountains of Santa Monica, Calif.
Columbia Pictures, the film’s distributor, renamed the place Camp Grown Ups for the day. Various people partook in the numerous games (volleyball, bocce, cornhole, horseshoes and croquet) set up on the club’s sun-drenched grounds. A tent filled with tables of freshly grilled food (hot dogs, brats, cheeseburgers and chicken breasts, among other stuff) and coolers of drinks completed the cookout theme.
A DJ spun ’80s Pop songs like J. Geils Band’s “Centerfold” and Yes’ “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” presumably Sandler favorites, as we waited for the 2 p.m. press conference to start. The whole cookout/press-day combo thing synched nicely with Sandler’s laid-back, pretension-free persona.
Properly nourished, we were finally called inside to a small dining hall where Sandler, Rock, James and Spade sat down at a long table, complete with microphones and little name cards in front them, to answer mostly innocuous questions from about 25 print journalists.
Someone asked Sandler what drives him to succeed.
“I don’t know what drives me to succeed,” he said. “I know I want to always do the best I can. I never was like that as a kid. I guess I was in Little League baseball, as far as I wanted to be good at that, but I certainly wasn’t the best at school. But this comedy thing and making movies and stuff, I love it so much that I do get driven to push myself as hard as I can.”
Sandler’s character in Grown Ups is supposedly a high-powered Hollywood agent. As such, his kids in the movie are spoiled brats who demand fancy bottled water and the latest technological gadgets. It’s a topic close to Sandler’s heart, as he has kids of his own.
“The idea of my kids being spoiled, I go to sleep thinking about it and I wake up thinking about it,” he said. “I’m trying to do the right thing. With the amount of money I have, it’s difficult to raise children the way I was raised. But I took away the west and north wing of the house for those guys. They’re not allowed in there.”
After about 30 minutes, most of which found the foursome trying to comedically one-up each other, someone asked Sandler which guy is the funniest.
“Everybody’s got their own thing,” he said. “I’ll tell you, Spade is incredibly funny. He drops the most destruction bombs on you. He’s quick as hell. Everybody’s got their moments. KJ is incredibly funny. He has different ways of being funny in conversation. When KJ texts me, I laugh like a buffoon for five minutes. I don’t write that ‘LOL’ because I’m a comedian and I think other comedians would go, ‘Are you fucking kidding me? LOL?’ So I just write, ‘Good one!’
“Rock is one of the funniest guys I’ve ever seen in my life, with just summing up something and having a different slant on it. You’re just like, ‘That is amazingly accurate and I can’t believe I’ve never said that out loud. I never even thought that.’ He makes you think straight. His comedy’s just genius.”
Twenty minutes later we were back in the room with the movie’s three actresses: Bello, Hayek and Rudolph. Hayek answered the most pressing question of the day right off the bat.
“I said yes to this movie because I’ve been a big Adam Sandler fan and I really liked the movie,” she said. “The main focus of my life now is my family. You’re more aware of the choices you make, that your children can watch. You should have fun and enjoy the experience of shooting it. It doesn’t get better than this movie for that.”