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Grown Ups (Dennis Dugan, 2010)


I fully admit that I am no expert on Adam Sandler movies, even if Punch Drunk Love happened to be my favorite film of the last decade. Still, after seeing Dennis Duganís unambitious, affable Grown Ups, I canít help but wonder why his work routinely inspires so much critical bile. While I would hardly endorse the gussied up sitcom that is Grown Ups as great cinema, its mixture of brash humor and warm affection for its characters seems rather close in purported spirit to the roundly adored Judd Apatow-produced comedies of recent years. If this is a standard Sandler comedy, itís no wonder that James L. Brooks cast him as a leading man. It shares the many of the same features that define his Oscar-decorated works. The mixture of male bonding, family values, and dick jokes that Grown Ups serves up is hardly my cup of tea, but judging by the earlier responses to films by directors like Apatow and Brooks, you would expect this movie to be critically embraced. 

Grown Upsí cast of characters includes a Hollywood agent (Adam Sandler) with a spoiled wife and kids, an emasculated house-husband (Chris Rock), a browbeaten salesman (Kevin James) who canít stand up to his spouse, an unrepentant bachelor (David Spade), and a new-age mystic (Rob Schneider) with a wife whoís old enough to be his mother. Members of a championship-winning 1978 junior high basketball team, this group reunites to pay tribute to their deceased coach. The reunion doesnít conjure the expected cheap pathos among the men, but surprises by stressing their continued lifelong friendship despite their divergent paths. When they meet up, they mostly exchange lame, obviously affectionate putdowns, as if they had never spent time apart. Their reunion, set over an ironic Fourth of July weekend, with families in tow, provides an opportunity for reflection and a chance to see how they measure up against their buddies. 

Grown Ups is then less of a satire than a paean to middle-class values. Much of its humor appeals to the lowest common denominator, but its morals seem equally broad. It bemoans spoiled children, yet at the same time acknowledges that the little terrors are enabled by parents who love their kids too much to say no. Disappointment lies at its core, yet acceptance of that disappointment seems to be the only path that the film sees to maturity. In whole, itís more low-key, and maybe even more mature, than the average Sandler comedy is supposed to be. Behind all of the rude hijinks, lies a sweet-natured, innocuous message. If only it were smarter. 

Scene by scene, from a scriptwriting perspective, Grown Ups, it is relatively uninspired, which is disappointing. While the movie has no problem juggling its twenty or so characters, itís rather amazing that a group of highly-paid comics canít come up with any funnier jokes than these. The message here seems to be less that these comedians are exceptional entertainers than that they are identical to every other family in America. They play half-men, either unable to pursue their sexual impulses or depressed by their lack of a loving family, but the film refuses to fully exploit those states of affairs either as the object of the filmís send-up or as drama. Perhaps a message of helpless acceptance is resonant with audiences, though. Grown Upsí embrace of the compromises involved in pursuing the American dream is a message designed to placate the masses, but it offers more of a message than most comedies manage to impart, which must count for something.



Jeremy Heilman