Lasciate ogne speranza, voi chi’intrate. How did it come to this? At the height of his power in Hollywood in 1999, Adam Sandler founded his own production company as a way to continue making the movies he enjoys. Over the years his films have slowly morphed into a pariah on the landscape of big budget studio comedies, becoming thinly veiled excuses for lavish vacations. But do they truly represent the nadir in the career of one of comedy’s once-brightest stars? Are there any hidden or underrated gems? Is there such a thing as too few fart jokes? Will I retain any sense of sanity by the end of this? Join me and find out, as we venture to the Happy Valley.
Just Go With It commits one of the bigger sins of Hollywood comedies by playing dangerously loose with its construction. Not dumb enough to work as a screwball comedy, not offensive enough to shock audiences and too bland to last long in the public consciousness, the film just ends up somewhere in the middle of the post-2000s rom-com garbage heap. Even now, less than 24 hours after watching it, I’m struggling to feel strongly about anything in the film in a positive or negative way.
The film represents yet another remake in the Happy Madison canon, after Mr. Deeds and The Longest Yard, with screenwriters Allan Loeb and Timothy Dowling updating the 1969 Walter Matthau, Ingrid Bergman and Goldie Hawn film Cactus Flower (for which Hawn won an Oscar). The main argument to update an existing film is to put your own personal spin on the original property and, although I haven’t seen Cactus Flower, I can’t imagine a less personal statement that Sandler was trying to make with Just Go With It. Sure, gender norms and stereotypes had changed since the late 1960s, but as we’ve discussed, Happy Madison isn’t exactly the most progressive studio in Hollywood. For every step forward with a positive message that the film takes with Jennifer Aniston’s empowered single-mom character, it takes two steps back for every leering, lingering shot of her or Brooklyn Decker in a bikini. Sandler rightfully received his share of flak for filming a glorified vacation with Grown Ups, but it’s hard to justify any reason for this film to exist beyond his desire to go back to Hawaii.
We’re entering the apex of Sandler’s career as an actor — if we haven’t arrived there already — and Just Go With It may just be his worst performance yet. His protagonist, plastic surgeon Danny Maccabee, has virtually no redeeming qualities: He lies to a girl he’s just met and wears shorts and T-shirts on first dates, and yet we’re led to believe that Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover model Brooklyn Decker has instantly fallen for him. Beyond that, Sandler just never feels engaged with the material enough to get the audience on his side. The film almost constantly reminds us that Danny’s predicament is the result of his own stupidity and manipulation.
We all know from the onset of their introduction that Sandler and Aniston will end up together, which makes it all the more confounding that the film makes little to no effort to lay out any other possibility. Aside from the first scene where Sandler and Decker meet, they’re almost never given any opportunities to build their chemistry together or make an argument for why we should want them to be together, even before Sandler begins to realize his feelings for someone else. Nearly every modern rom-com makes the lazy decision to reveal the initial love interest as some kind of cold-hearted monster that makes the audience turn against him/her, but Just Go With It is even too lazy for that.
As forgettable and miserable as these films have proved to be, one thing they have in their favor is their brevity. Even Funny People, the longest film by far, managed to move the plot forward or add character shading in the non-essential scenes. I may be the most impatient person on the planet — aside from my 5-year-old — but Just Go With It is at least 10 to 15 minutes too long in its 117-minute running time. The film is populated with far too many moments and scenes that just feel like the film is spinning its wheels. Beyond some juvenile gross-out humor, I can’t imagine what the purpose of the Nick Swardson-Brooklyn Decker scene at the restaurant is supposed to accomplish. I understand wanting to get the most bang for your buck when you’re filming on location in Hawaii, but surely Sandler could have come up with something more worthwhile. Instead, it feels like the creative team was more worried about having a memorable vacation and less about making a memorable film.
- As I alluded to last week, the product placement is off the charts in this film. I’m honestly surprised that the Chuck E. Cheese knock-off restaurant that the gang visits wasn’t a Dave & Buster’s.
- “I’m Getting Paid How Much?!” Inexplicable Cameo Award: I had no idea Nicole Kidman was in this, and she’s a scream whenever she shows up, regardless of how poorly her character is written.
- Just Go With It — The Happy Madison Promise: A two-fer this week! Reading the plot description of Cactus Flower, it appears that the lead character’s occupation is a dentist. Here, he’s a plastic surgeon. Why the change? For crude, cruel body humor of course! This is also at least the second film in which somebody has a nanny / maid that adds absolutely nothing to the film, and I suspect it won’t be the last.
- Fart Joke Counter: Zilch, unless you count Nick Swardson, the human fart joke.
- The Walkout Test: Surprisingly, I believe this one is a pass.
- NEXT TIME: Happy Madison just can’t let go of the “stupid animal tricks” genre with Zookeeper.