You know, I don’t hate Adam Sandler, so I’m a little confused about why it is he hates me so very much.
Not that I think it’s just me he hates. I’d argue that the evidence on display in the films he’s making these days like last year’s “Grown-Ups” and his new film, the truly rancid “Just Go With It” would signify that he has naked contempt for his audience. When I sat in the theater Wednesday night, witnessing the arrogant and grotesque indifference on display, I couldn’t help but feel like I was being punished merely for showing up and still having some slight interest in Sandler as a performer.
Trust me… that last little bit of good faith atrophied and died at some point during the eleven and a half hours that “Just Go With It” seems to last. I couldn’t swear in court that it’s that long, but that is how it felt. This is the most singularly unpleasant “comedy” I’ve seen since the horror of “Old Dogs,” and it shares many of the characteristics that made that film so vile.
What I find truly amazing is that “Just Go With It” was at some point in its development a remake of the film “Cactus Flower,” a ’60s movie that earned Goldie Hawn an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Swimsuit model Brooklyn Decker plays the role that Hawn played in the original, and I think it’s safe to say that Decker can go ahead and make other plans for Oscar Night 2012. In the original, Walter Matthau was a dentist who needed help from his receptionist, played by Ingrid Bergman, when he spins a wild lie about a bad marriage to impress a much-younger girl, played by Hawn. So this time around, instead of Matthau, Bergman, and Hawn, we get Sandler, Jennifer Aniston, and Brooklyn Decker.
There are times when I really hate Hollywood.
Part of the problem with the film is fundamental. Sandler stars as Danny Macabee, and in the opening scenes, we see his near-wedding twenty years ago, when he was a cardiologist-to-be with a giant nose. Giant. Like a summer squash. And just before the wedding, he overhears his bride-to-be talking about how she’s settling on him and how she really wants someone else, and it breaks his heart. He walks out on the wedding and, still wearing his ring, he goes to a bar where he meets Minka Kelly. He tells her about his awful wife, she feels bad and takes him home, and Danny begins a life-long pattern of blatant deception to get sex with hot young girls.
Remind me again why I should care about what happens to this guy or why I should think it’s funny?
I don’t really subscribe to the notion that I always need to like the main character in a movie. I’ve seen plenty of great films that feature main characters I wouldn’t say I like, but that I am interested in, and at the very least, I find myself drawn in by the situation or the ideas. Here, we’re dealing in mainstream Hollywood comedy, and ultimately, the film tries very hard to make us care whether or not Danny ends up with his receptionist, Katherine, played by Aniston. Since he’s a giant bag of garbage wrapped in skin, I don’t want him to get anything except possibly a terminal disease. One that acts quickly enough to get me out of the theater and home again and away from this character completely. I’d say that’s a problem.
Nick Swardson, a stand-up who can be very funny and who made many great appearances on “Reno 911” over the years, is awful as Danny’s cousin Eddie, the “wacky sidekick” for this particular film, and he’s given so much room to improv that it feels like you’re watching a clown drown. That’s what happens when you don’t write anything for someone to do, though… you risk stranding the actor completely. I don’t care how sharp your cast is, you need to have something on the page that works to begin with, and that gives them a foundation to start from when they’re improvising. Allan Loeb should probably fire his agents at this point, since he’s gone from being a white-hot writer with two films on the Black List three or four years ago to being the credited screenwriter on “The Dilemma” and “Just Go With It” in 2011. Ouch. The original film was written by I.A.L. Diamond, Billy Wilder’s writing partner, and I’m guessing he is spinning in his grave right now so hard that he might drill his way back to the surface. Loeb has to share some shame with Timothy Dowling, a very funny man whose fingerprints are completely invisible on this mess.
Basically, this smells like the very worst of the Happy Madison output, and I’ve come to really hate them as a production company. The early Adam Sandler films were rough around the edges and barely coherent as storytelling, but they were at least funny. Sandler played variations on the sociopathic man-child with no regard for the typical Hollywood beats or formula, and when they did play to formula, it always seemed to be tongue-in-cheek, like they knew how terrible the formula was. These days, there’s nothing that suggests that these movies are anything more than excuses to take some buddies to a nice location while earning preposterous paychecks. Sandler doesn’t even play riffs on the basic character type anymore. He’s just Adam Sandler, impatient to get through a scene so he can get back to the craft service table.
I’d be curious to learn how someone managed to talk Nicole Kidman into taking an unbilled supporting role playing a rotten bitch from Aniston’s past, and whether or not they told her ahead of time that Sandler’s character was a plastic surgeon. There are a number of jokes in the first third of the film about bad plastic surgery, and when Kidman shows up, you keep waiting for those jokes to pay off since Kidman essentially embodies everything the film has been making fun of so far. They don’t, which just makes it awkward and uncomfortable, and she ends up playing most of her scenes opposite Dave Matthews, who really isn’t funny. There’s a hula contest between Kidman and Aniston that is so horrible and that goes on for so long that it tested my ability to stay in the theater. It’s embarrassing. It’s like watching your grandmother give somebody a lap dance.
I am impressed at how loathsome they manage to make Aniston’s kids in the film, played by Bailee Madison and Griffin Gluck. I don’t want to pick on the kids themselves, but I’ll say that the characters as written are at least of a piece with the rest of the film. After all, if every adult in the movie is a self-serving piece of shit, why shouldn’t the kids be, too? Dennis Dugan does nothing to help the kids, though, letting Madison in particular give the sort of performance she will one day need therapy to forget.
Overall, the only person who can walk away from the film with head held high is probably Aniston. It’s a character you’ve seen a billion times, the frump who is secretly hot once you take her glasses off, but Aniston almost manages to take the misanthropic crap on the page and turn it into a recognizable human being. She seems much too decent and normal to be in this film, and her eventual inevitable attraction to Sandler is purely a matter of narrative function, not the result of anything you see happen onscreen.
As far as Brooklyn Decker is concerned, she is indeed a swimsuit model, and she does indeed jiggle when she walks, but she’s a blank as a screen presence. Danny expends a fair amount of lip service talking about how special this girl is and how she’s different than every girl he’s ever been with and how she makes him want to finally settle down, but she’s so utterly devoid of personality that it never plays. I’m sure she will have a long career of taking off some or all of her clothes to the delight of many viewers, but I think it would be charity to describe her as a “model/actress” at this point when only one of those words is technically correct.
The film is garish and ugly on a technical level, shot like the cinematographer was actively angry at everyone on the set, and Dennis Dugan continues to mystify me as a feature filmmaker. Did he save Sandler’s life or something? Did he give him a kidney at some point? Why does anyone hire him? His movies have all the style and sophistication of an Army STD educational film, yet year in and year out, he’s got some new crime he happily commits against the ticket-buyers.
Oh, whatever. I can’t even keep up a head of steam to rant about this thing. The title is so forgettable that Sandler should have just called it what he was really thinking. I’m sure “Go F**k Yourself” would sell just as many tickets as this thing will this weekend, and at least it would be an honest reflection of the way he feels about each and every one of us at this point.
And on second thought, Sandler? The feeling’s mutual.
“Just Go With It” is being unleashed in theaters everywhere today. You have been warned.