I wonder if Adam Sandler's getting restless. His new comedy, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, is doing well at the box office, as predicted, but his three "serious" films—Punch-Drunk Love (2002), Spanglish (2004), and Reign Over Me (2007)—all did poorly. His comedy fans didn't follow him to those films, even though all of them received good reviews, or at least reviews that praised Sandler for going outside his comfort zone, and it’s not like he went that far outside that zone for Punch-Drunk Love (although the movie was a lot quirkier than his standard fare, thanks to writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson).
Lots of movie stars, including Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, maintain a "one for me, one for them" filmography, and if Sandler's satisfied with his non-wacky films not making much money, more power to him. But I wonder ... and I sort of worry ... but mostly I wonder.
I do think Sandler has to be one of the nicest megastars working today. I don't find his comedies to be all that funny, but I admire him for remaining loyal to his friends. His comedies are shot by the same stable of directors (Dennis Dugan helmed Happy Gilmore, Big Daddy, and Chuck and Larry; Peter Segal shot Anger Management, 50 First Dates, and The Longest Yard; Frank Coraci directed The Wedding Singer, The Waterboy, and Click; and Steven Brill was forgiven for 2000’s Little Nicky, Sandler’s only comedy bomb, and allowed to direct 2002’s Mr. Deeds, which was a success), and they're populated with the same stable of early-'90s Saturday Night Live costars (Rob Schneider, David Spade, Kevin Nealon, Chris Rock if he's got nothing better to do).
Sandler even produces movies like The Master of Disguise, The Benchwarmers, Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo, and Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star for his SNL friends to star in. They all look like they were written over the course of a weekend and the first draft was then rushed into production, but it's still nice that Sandler helps those who are less fortunate when it comes to fame.
Let me rephrase that—it's nice that he helps out friends who have comedic talent, even if that talent is temporarily MIA. (David Spade is a prime example of "funny on the small screen, completely and utterly lost on the big screen.") But Sandler also has a habit of putting non-SNL friends like Peter Dante, Jonathan Loughran, and Allen Covert in his movies. Dante and Loughran stick out like sore thumbs when they appear onscreen, and even though Covert can act, he didn't need his own Sandler-produced vehicle, 2006's Grandma's Boy, which naturally costarred Dante and Loughran. I can’t imagine Sandler playing hardball with a studio in the sense of "I'm not doing your big summer comedy for 2009 unless you let my junior-year roommate at NYU star in a movie he wrote about a magical bong," but anything's possible.
Sandler's next movie, according to IMDB, is You Don't Mess With the Zohan, cowritten by Sandler and Judd Apatow, the writer-director of Knocked Up and current king of comedy in Hollywood. As a producer, Apatow has seven movies coming out in the next year. Comedy geeks (including the Onion AV Club’s writers) can't wait to see these movies, but I wonder: is the inevitable backlash against Apatow on its way? Backlash is a bitch, and it’s often caused by oversaturation in the marketplace. Just ask Ben Affleck (or Evan Dando).
I really liked Knocked Up. It wasn't overhyped, thank God. Apatow and his cast even made the relationship between the geek and the hot chick work (then again, Apatow has first-hand knowledge of being a geek who’s married to a hot chick—Knocked Up’s Leslie Mann), but I'm glad the seed was planted that these two people aren't right for each other and it may not work out when all is said and done. Do you think it was an inside joke that Ben and his friends run a celebrity-nudity Web site but Katherine Heigl, who the majority of the world's male population would like to see naked, wore a bra in both her sex scenes? Otherwise I'm inclined to think that Heigl's agent changed the no-nudity clause in her contract at the last second, i.e. even though she was never going to be shown topless, her handlers wanted to make sure that you never even thought she was topless while filming. But seriously, who wears a bra during non-quickie sex? I certainly don't.
Still, I wonder ... with seven comedies coming out in the next year, all of them featuring overlapping cast members and several of them centering on stoner protagonists or lead characters who are teens or twentysomethings, are these movies going to look and sound the same after a while? Not to mention Knocked Up's references to Matisyahu, Eric Bana, and "the shoe bomber," which are going to feel stale ten years from now. Comedian Patton Oswalt said recently in an Onion AV Club interview that as a script consultant for DreamWorks Animation, one of his main goals is to get rid of the pop-culture references that are already in a script because they become dated so quickly.
I mentioned the possible Apatow backlash to my friend Jeremy back in June, and last week he wrote me with this news:
Back to our discussion of a backlash against Judd Apatow et al., the below is from an article in the LA Times about Aaron Sorkin and the failure of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip:
"Bernie Brillstein, the fabled Hollywood manager whose clients included John Belushi and Jim Henson, is convinced that failure is an inevitable byproduct of industry envy and backstabbing. 'Rightly or wrongly, Aaron got a reputation as holier than thou,' Brillstein explains. 'When you put yourself out front in the media, like Aaron did or Judd Apatow is right now, everyone is lying in wait for you. That's the psychology of the town. Once you're anointed, everyone wants the king to fail.'"
Well, I don’t work in Hollywood, and I don’t want Apatow to fail (even though he isn't the director of any of the seven upcoming movies he's producing, he'll almost certainly be blamed if any of them fail), but I don’t want movie theaters to be crammed full of stoner/slacker comedies next year either. I am a fan of Freaks and Geeks, the show Apatow produced for 18 glorious episodes seven years ago, but I don’t think of him or his talented ensemble of actors as a secret I want to keep from other people. Have at 'em, world. Just don’t reach for your pitchforks if Superbad or Forgetting Sarah Marshall or The Pineapple Express or Walk Hard or Drillbit Taylor or Step Brothers or Zohan doesn’t turn out to be another Knocked Up or The 40-Year-Old Virgin.
And now for a completely unnecessary postscript ...
Look, I know I’m the only one who was bothered by this, but I'm gonna say it anyway: in 2005, before The 40-Year-Old Virgin was released, its "coming soon" (pun absolutely intended) poster spelled the title the way I just did, with two hyphens in "40-Year-Old." But once newspaper ads and theater posters started to appear, the first hyphen went away: "40 Year-Old." In the movie itself, when the title appears on the screen, it’s spelled as The 40 Year Old Virgin. Both hyphens vanished into thin air. Apparently the Anti-Hyphen Lobby—I mean, the Anti Hyphen Lobby—has powerful friends in Hollywood.