The third collaboration of Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore is laugh out loud funny… as proved by a raucous theater of multigenerational couples today. Having hit well with The Wedding Singer (my favorite Adam Sandler movie*) and 50 First Dates, the couple returns as the widowed Jim Friedman and the recently divorced Lauren Reynolds. [They also team up again with Sandler’s sometime director, Frank Coraci.] What happens is funny (I know that puts me in the minority of critics) but it’s also poignant.
Jim and Lauren don’t hit it off on their blind date at Hooters. We know they won’t. Just like we know that each of them will have to blow it once at making things work (he will on their mixed-up trip to South Africa; “she” will thanks to her ex-husband (Joel McHale)) because that’s what happens in romantic comedies. No, this isn’t overtly genius or original, but it’s funny, it’s engaging, and Sandler and Barrymore have real chemistry (check out their Jimmy Fallon interview from a month or so ago).
Of course, the growing list of “regular participants” parades through, including Terry Crews, Kevin Nealon, Dan Patrick, Shaquille O’Neal, and Allen Covert. The music is always fitting (especially a several song montage), the humor is both clever in wordplay and slapstick physically, and the settings, mostly Africa, are wonderful. From a romantic comedy perspective, this is about as good as it gets, staying on the sunny side of PG-13 while pushing a few boundaries when possible.
But looking for love again in your forties, or not looking but needing something more from life, has to be hard. While there is significant laughter to be had here, some of which may require you to be a parent or divorced or… not, there’s also a lesson about learning to trust again and consider what your children are getting into when you date. [Trust me, the movie is funny, but it’s about to get real right here.]
Jim’s eldest (Bella Thorne) has been raised to be an athlete not be a lady (a la the youngest girl on Last Man Standing); the middle one (Emma Fuhrmann) leaves seats open for her deceased mother to sit in so that she doesn’t ‘lose’ her; the youngest one (Alvia Alyn Lind) doesn’t know any different, but thinks having a woman around feels pretty good. Lauren’s eldest (Zak Henri) struggles with his crush on the babysitter and a growing interest in skin magazines; her youngest (Kyle Silverstein) longs to be competitive but hasn’t had anyone teach him or instruct him on the art of losing well. All of these are real issues, real ways that children who’ve experienced their family break up. And Blended doesn’t skate around them.
Somewhere in the midst of the third act, I thought of a friend of mine who lost his wife in the last few years. I thought of his children and the way they only had him to turn to for both nurture and discipline, tough and soft love. I know he’s been seeing someone but I know that transition has been hard for him. I know there have to have been some awkward talks, with his potential date and his children, but that the new relationship was meant to do something new, not replace his first wife. Blended aims to hit funny and show us how love might find us again, sometimes unexpectedly and sometimes awkwardly, sometimes when we’re not looking for it and sometimes where we’re sure it won’t find us.
Sandler’s latest hits hilarious and poignant, proving underneath all of that craziness is a heart that’s still exploring how love finds us, how family works, and what it means to explore this spectacularly absurd thing called parenthood. Blended isn’t for everyone but it worked for me.
*[For the record, I rank Sandler’s top half-dozen this way: Wedding Singer, Happy Gilmore, The Waterboy, Billy Madison, Blended, and Mr. Deeds.]