There is always this uncomfortable inner-conflict when I finish watching a Happy Madison production (otherwise known as ‘another Adam Sandler movie’), like I just witnessed something profoundly confusing and I don’t know whether to love it or to hate it.
Nowadays, it seems most critics are quick to jump on the ‘hate side’ too often, citing the shallow and absurd toilet humour that has been strung throughout the majority of Adam Sandler’s films. The aging comedian’s latest project, Blended, is even more confusing as the rest, the majority of the film’s humour is as anything he has produced, appealing to no one over a certain young age, but – as with most of his films – there’s a bright, beating heart once all those cheap gags are washed away by character development; with blended, that heart is warmer than most of his recent efforts.
Sandler has a knack for painting a comedy as one thing, and then having it end up as something almost entirely different. This time he does that with Drew Barrymore, recalling the hard-to-hate on-screen chemistry of The Wedding Singer and 50 First Dates. While this winning combination doesn’t quite make it to the level of Sandler’s 1998 classic, it sits somewhere among 50 First Dates and Funny People.
An obvious parallel to The Brady Bunch is done well here, giving Sandler’s character (Jim Friedman) three daughters while Barrymore’s Lauren Reynolds contends with two sons. Each daughter represents a different coming-of-age trope, such as Jim’s eldest, Hilary, who has a gender-confusion issue thrust upon her by her father’s neglect and is struggling to come to terms with her new-found interest in boys; on the other hand (obviously the right hand, eh) is one of Lauren’s sons, Brendan, who is just starting to discover his need to masturbate and stare at large breasts. While it’s corny at first, and allows for a few running gags which are only very mildly amusing, there are genuine stabs at sentimentality buried here; Hilary just wants to embrace herself and gain some confidence, and Brendan just wants to be prove himself a man. It’s all fairly run-of-the-mill stuff here, but it gradually moves towards the endearing side of the spectrum with the help of a very likeable cast.
Director Frank Coraci, who also directed The Wedding Singer, knows that the most bankable side of the film is going to be the constant back-and-forth between Sandler and Barrymore, so having them as two opposing forces who gradually come together through a series of coincidental run-ins – culminating in them both bringing their families to the same ‘Blended’ hotel event in Africa – plays to the strengths of an Adam Sandler movie. Jokes are exaggerated so explicitly that you just know they are swallowing their pride on purpose, continually hitting us with toilet humour until it starts to actually feel good. The linear direction of Jim and Lauren’s dynamic is fairly predictable, and luckily the great dialogue between them doesn’t let up until the very end.
Peripheral characters are nothing more than running gags who carve out their niche early in the movie and keep pounding it in until it starts to actually fit; the best examples of this would be Terry Crews’ Nickens, an African performer who pops up randomly throughout the movie with an annoyingly energetic swing, or longtime Sandler collaborator Kevin Nealon’s Eddy, whose job is to just act like an excessively horny creep and make out with Jessica Lowe in pretty much all his scenes. It adds to the confusion of it all as you want to roll your eyes at these characters, but find yourself with a silly grin on your face, occasionally looking around you to make sure no one can see you actually enjoying yourself.
Perhaps past Adam Sandler movies have set the standard so low that films like Blended have their quality amplified by default; but whatever the case, this film will stand as a nice little redemption for someone who hasn’t seen such a thing since 2009’s above average Funny People (which teamed Sandler up with Seth Rogen – another great team).
Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Running Time 146 minutes
Blended is currently screening in cinemas across the country