There are plot spoilers for Funny People in this article.
Adam Sandler used to be one of the few bankable movie stars in all of Hollywood, but his star is seriously waning after That’s My Boy ($36m domestic) and Blended ($46m domestic) flopped, The Cobbler didn’t even play in theaters and Pixels underperformed with a $24m debut over the weekend. Sure, he’s now working off of a lucrative four-picture deal with Netflix, and the first installment, the controversial western comedy The Ridiculous Six, is scheduled to drop on December 11th. However, at this point Sandler is the perfect guy to sign a movie deal with Netflix because his movies are no longer worth the price of a movie ticket. A mindless hour and a half in front of the TV, on the other hand…but where did it all go wrong?
Well, it’s one thing to be the actor who makes inane, mean-spirited, lowest-common-denominator comedies for a living. It’s another thing to actually pause for a moment to openly mock those types of movies before going right back to making them.
That’s been Adam Sandler’s existence ever since 2009’s Funny People, the Judd Apatow dramedy in which the former guitar-strumming SNL scene-stealer plays a depressed, cancer-stricken movie star, George Simmons, who returns to the world of stand-up comedy and forges a friendship with an up-and-comer played by Seth Rogen. George Simmons is not technically Adam Sandler. For example, unlike Simmons Sandler has never had cancer, probably doesn’t have to pay people just to hang out with him and has been married since 2003 and has two young daughters.
However, the line between fiction and reality blurs enough in Funny People that it’s almost impossible to not assume that Sandler is essentially playing himself. After all, the opening scene of the movie is archival footage Apatow took of a twenty-something Sandler making prank calls back when they were roommates in New York, both struggling to make it as stand-up comedians. We’re supposed to believe we’re glimpsing a time in George Simmons’ life when he was purely happy despite living in relative squalor, yet the instant association with the young version of Sandler we might remember from Saturday Night Live or even MTV’s Remote Control makes it hard to disconnect the actor from the character.
So, when George Simmons appears to have an open contempt for both the types of crude comedies he makes and the caliber of people who buy tickets to see them it’s hard to not see it as both Sandler and Apatow crapping all over Sandler’s most recent films at that time, i.e., You Don’t Mess with the Zohan (which Apatow actually co-wrote), I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, Click and Little Nicky. That may not actually be the case, but it has the ring of, as Stephen Colbert would say, truthiness to it. The walls of Simmon’s mansion are actually covered with fake movie posters for all his fictional hits, and it’s startling how much they look like barely exaggerated versions of movies real life Adam Sandler could have made prior to Funny People:
Apatow actually came up with brief plot synopsis for each one, and if you didn’t have those posters to look at could you guess which of the following plot descriptions is for one of Sandler’s Netflix movies instead of just one of Apatow’s made-up loglines?:
1. When a slacker janitor at NASA is accidentally launched into space, he is forced to rely on his wits – and he soon learns that in space, no one can hear you clean.
2. Davey refuses to grow up. He takes a job at his alma mater just so he can party, but when a paperwork mix up sends him to Japan as a foreign exchange student, his host family spoils all his fun.
3. Two down-on-their-luck guys decide to fake their own deaths and start over with new identities. However, there are some things that even fake deaths can’t help you outrun.
4. A busy nuclear physicist’s life is changed when the radiation he works with begins to shrink him one inch every day. Forced to face his future, he begins to discover that it’s the little things in life that really count.
5. Craig, a workaholic lawyer, never made time for his relationships. Alone and depressed on his 40th birthday, he wonders about the life he could have lead. But be careful what you wish for… you might just find yourself in diapers!
If you guessed #3, you’d be right. That’s the basic plot of The Do Over, which is currently in production at Netflix with co-stars David Spade and Paula Patton. It’s probably the most obvious choice because it’s the least extreme and isn’t at all represented in the above posters, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you told me that in Sandler’s other Netflix movies he’ll be a slacker janitor in space and in another he’ll be a man-child sent to Japan as part of some mix-up. For the record, the fake titles for the other choices are Astro-Not (#1), Sayonara Davey! (#2), Little By Little (#4) and Re-Do (#5), all pulled from SlashFilm.
Here are the posters for the live-action movies Sandler has actually made since Funny People:
To be fair, The Cobbler is more of a dramedy, and I didn’t include the poster for Men, Women & Children, Jason Reitman’s apparently terrible anti-internet screed in which Sandler is but one member of an ensemble including Judy Greer, Rosemarie DeWitt, Ansel Elgort, Dean Norris and Jennifer Garner. So, it’s not exactly like Sandler has stayed completely within his comfort zone since Funny People. However, as the AV Club’s Nathan Rabin put it Sandler’s performances in Cobbler and Men, Women and Children “consist primarily of making a sad face.” Sandler is legitimately good in Funny People, though. Like most Apatow movies, it can be rather fairly accused of outstaying its welcome, but it is an interesting examination of the often unpleasant and unhappy lives of the men and women who make us laugh for a living.
It was also a serious box office disappointment. Apatow was red hot, coming off of 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, both of which made at least $110m domestic. Funny People barely made over $50m ($51.8m). As a point of comparison, Apatow’s current movie, Trainwreck, has already made $10m more than that in just 10 days.
The problem is that Sandler always seems to overreact to perceived financial failures. He offers us a tantalizing glimpse at his potential as an actor in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch Drunk Love (2002), but when that brings back no financial gain or serious awards consideration he fires off Anger Management (2003) and 50 First Dates (2004). He takes a second crack at respectability with James L. Brooks’ first movie since As Good As It Gets, but the result is Spanglish (2004), a box office bomb ($55m worldwide on a $80m budget) torn apart by critics. So, he runs into The Longest Yard (2005) and Click (2006). Rinse and repeat with Reign Over Me (2007) followed by I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry (2007), You Don’t Mess with the Zohan (2008) and Bedtime Stories (2008).
The pattern plays like “one for me, two or three for you,” and I should acknowledge that movies like Anger Management and 50 First Dates definitely have their good moments. What’s changed since Funny People is that while his indie movies continue to falter the supposedly mass appeal comedies have started to lose their appeal. See: Jack and Jill, That’s My Boy, Blended and Pixels. There have been exceptions. The Grown-Ups movies combined to gross just over $500m worldwide, and he has possibly stumbled upon an animated franchise with Hotel Transylvania, the first of which made $358m worldwide on a $85m budget. The inevitable sequel is due later this year. Plus, Netflix is apparently giving Sandler budgets as high as $80m for each of his four movies for them. However, according to Jeff Block, box office analyst with Exhibitor Relations, “Adam Sandler’s audience is really no longer there theatrically like it once was. They’re not following him any more…it’s not that Netflix is purgatory, but he probably wouldn’t have made that deal if his films were still doing $100 million or more at the box office.”
What went wrong? THR’s box office analyst thinks time has simply passed Sandler by, “His early work relied heavily on a kid-like buffoonery that simply doesn’t age well. Few American performers have been able to ride childish cuteness far into middle age.” The AV Club thinks things started going south the moment Sandler stopped being the butt of the joke in his movies and instead became the “1 percenter at the top of the socio-economic ladder making fun of everybody at the bottom.” Over time, that has turned him into a bit of a bully figure, with each subsequent movie he releases carrying an increasingly meaner spirit. THR’s film critic suspects “the way for Adam Sandler to rehabilitate himself is to spend several years doing nothing but other people’s movies, taking advice from talented people instead of hacks, and not looking at the grosses. To work at being a bright point in ambitious pictures, and not rebounding to Doofusville.” Now that he’s behind the Netflix wall, though, he’ll likely be allowed even more freedom to do what he wants and surround himself with as many hacks who will refuse to challenge him.
For me, it really started with Funny People. The central argument of the movie is that people aren’t nearly as changed by traumatic events as more conventional stories would have us believe. George Simmons gets a serious cancer scare with minimal chance of survival, but an experimental treatment saves his life. His response is to more or less stay the same person he’s always been. Just because he got cancer doesn’t mean he’ll suddenly become a better person. Well, in Adam Sandler’s case just because he made Funny People doesn’t mean he’s going to stop making movies like Jack and Jill, That’s My Boy, Blended, Ridiculous Six and The Do Over. They just may not play in theaters anymore thanks to Netflix and an audience that has started to turn on him.
This Weekend’s Estimated Box Office Top 10 Totals (7/24-7/26)
- Production Budget=$130m
- Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$24.7m
- Weekend Gross (International)=$35.4m
2) Pixels (Domestic Debut)
- Production Budget=$110m ($88m after tax rebates)
- Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$24m
- Weekend Gross (International)=$21.4m
- Production Budget=$77m
- Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$22m
- Weekend Gross (International)=$44m
- Production Budget=$30m
- Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$17.2m
- Weekend Gross (International)=Less than $1m
- Domestic/International/Worldwide=$61.5m/Less than $1m/$61.7m
5) Southpaw(Worldwide Debut)
- Production Budget=$30m
- Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$16.5m
- Weekend Gross (International)=$3.5m
- Worldwide Debut=$20m
6) Paper Towns (Domestic Debut)
- Production Budget=$12m
- Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$12.5m
- Weekend Gross (International)=$8m
Is this a bad opening? No. They are set up for a profitable run with this movie now. However, they were expecting so much more from this. It is, after all, adapted from a John Green novel just like The Fault in Our Stars, which debuted to $48m last summer. Sure, teen-targeted fare like Dope and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl have been relative flops this summer, but they didn’t have the power of John Green’s fanbase behind them. It turns out that didn’t make much of a difference, though, and the studio is rather candidly confused. “I’m really somewhat mystified,” Chris Aronson, domestic distribution chief at Fox, told Variety. “It’s something we’re going to have to look at and review on a post-mortem basis and find out why we didn’t get more people in.”
7) Inside Out
- Production Budget=$65m
- Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$7.3m
- Weekend Gross (International)=$28.3m
8) Jurassic World
- Production Budget=$150m
- Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$6.8m
- Weekend Gross (International)=$7.6m
Now the third highest grossing film of all time worldwide, having just passed the first Avengers ($1.51b).
9) Mr. Holmes
- Production Budget=They’re not telling
- Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$2.8m
- Weekend Gross (International)=Unavailable
- Domestic Total=$6.4m
10) Terminator: Genisys
- Production Budget=$155m
- Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$2.4m
- Weekend Gross (International)=$10.7m
For what it’s worth, thanks to its forthcoming debut in China Genisys will most likely end up with a higher international gross than Salvation ($246m).
What Left the Top 10?:
- Magic Mike XXL– Current total: $63.1m domestic on a $15m budget
- The Gallows – Current total: $21.3m domestic on a $1m budget
- Ted 2- Current total: $79.9m domestic on a $68m budget
Thunder buddies for life, right? Eh. The first Ted was the surprise of 2012, scoring huge domestic ($218.8m) and international ($330m) totals for a worldwide cume of $549m. Ted 2 exits the domestic top 10 with a worldwide gross barely over $150m ($153m).
What’s Up Next?: Vacation (on Wednesday) and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol