By: Addison Wylie
What do you think about when you hear “Summer”? Probably barbecues, hanging out with your friends, drinking, and enjoying the outdoor life at a pal’s cottage. This is what the film Grown Ups tries to capture and it captures the season of Summer quite well. We get prolonged sequences of the five main stars relaxing, having beers, and thinking about the good ‘ol days. They crack jokes while their at it and there’s almost not a single second where the five cohorts aren’t ripping on each other. In fact, the cast and crew are having so fun that they forget they’re in front of a camera and that they’re making a movie. They forget to establish interesting characters or a well constructed plot. But who cares, right? Everyone’s having fun, right? The movie may be fun for short instances but when the movie consists of nothing but scenes where cardboard characters are just “hanging out”, well, it’s not much of an interesting movie, is it?
Lenny, played by Adam Sandler, Eric, played by Kevin James, Kurt, played by Chris Rock, Marcus, played by David Spade, and Rob, played by Rob Schneider, have been best friends since they were young. Some of their favourite memories and where the five friends have bonded most has taken place on the basketball court. It’s here where the five won the junior high championship. As much as the friends have cherished that memory in particular, the thoughts they cherish the most are with their coach Buzzer, played by the always great scene stealer Blake Clark. Cut to 30 years later and the boys have all gone off to do their own separate things, however, they still keep in touch. Although they still have their friendships, their beloved coach has passed away. The five cohorts meet up at Buzzer’s funeral and decide to rent out the lake house they’ve partied at before and spread Buzzer’s ashes but, while they’re at it, they want to get caught up. That said, all five families come up to the lake house for a summer they soon won’t forget.
The movie’s been written by Adam Sandler and Saturday Night Live writing veteran Fred Wolf but I can’t help but feel the screenplay itself wasn’t very thick. A lot of the film felt improvised especially during the scenes where the actors joke around with one another. This adds a spontaneous element to the comedy but it’s also one of the film’s faults. Not all of the jokes or the roasts towards other cast members work. It’s almost like a game of “Hot Potato”. Someone starts the joke and the joke gets passed along and the joke begins to build a momentum. Just when you are expecting that killer punchline, someone drops the ball, the endgame is ultimately a flop and the joke is lost. This happens a lot during the movie and not even in that order. Sometimes the jokes are dead by the get-go. It’s obvious the director, Dennis Dugan, and the producers want to emulate the mood of a Judd Apatow movie. Apatow uses a formula that is similar to this but he actually has a solid story and well written material from the start. If his actors happen to stray from the lines, as long as the scene goes from point A to point B, it’s fine with Apatow. This formula works in a film like Knocked Up or The Forty-Year-Old Virgin because Apatow works with esteemed improv masters who know how to crack jokes while maintaining the pace of the scene. In Grown Ups, Dugan doesn’t know when to call “Cut!” and the editor, Tom Costain, wants to include everything in the final cut. Also, the five main actors have experience with improv acting but, when left with limited direction, they don’t exactly know the pacing of the scene. That said, the film also feels very long and that’s saying a lot for a film that clocks in at around 95 minutes. With these faults mentioned, I did find myself laughing at a few physical gags. Notably during the sequence where the families head to a water park. I won’t give too much away but Norm MacDonald doesn’t say one thing during his part and he still managed to get the biggest laugh out of me. Steve Buscemi also shows up and his physical gags are great as well.
People usually attend Happy Madison productions to laugh and I know the acting caliber isn’t exactly something you look for in a movie like this but I have a few qualms. Most of the performances feel phoned in. Adam Sandler performs his usual modern day schtick but adds a tired element onto it which may be a pro to some people. He isn’t doing voices or funny faces but he does look unimpressed for the most part. James gets stuck with a lot of jokes that poke fun at his weight and he accepts this. He’s not afraid to joke about it and throw himself into a situation where a prat fall is involved and I found he was the most charismatic actor out of the five. Chris Rock is involved with the movie but throughout, you can’t help but scratch your head and wonder what exactly drew him towards this movie. Rock is given virtually nothing to do and he’s given throw away lines. His zingers towards the other cast members aren’t strong either. The two cast members that begin to get grating as the film plods along are Spade and Schneider. Spade does his usual schtick as well but almost all of it falls flat. It’s as if his shorter lines are more memorable than his longer ones. His short quips are funny but the scenes that focus on him go nowhere. Schneider is absolutely annoying as a wannabe hippy adding nothing to scenes. His character is basically a punching bag for the other actors to rebound off of. The banter by the other cast members can be funny while they bag on Rob but it soon begins to become very childish. Especially during a scene where Lenny slaps Rob in the face numerous times with breakfast foods.
With the talent involved and a director who has made me laugh before with his films Happy Gilmore, Big Daddy, and Saving Silverman, Grown Ups should be a lot better than it is. There are jokes that will make you laugh but not hard and the ones that fall flat, and a lot of them fall flat, are groaners. Overall, Sandler and Wolf needed to develop their script a lot better before entering production and Dugan cannot direct comedy well with a flimsy script. However, if I was to recommend Grown Ups to someone, it would be to someone who has been in a coma, has woken up, but has missed June through August. The film does simulate a realistic feel of how a Summer might be in the cottage country and that sleep induced patient would’ve felt like he hasn’t missed any Summer times. Let’s just our patient isn’t looking for a Summer jam-packed with hardy laughs.