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.
How can a movie like Sandy Wexler be easily explained much less reviewed? The film belongs in the rarefied space throughout this series of an entry that’s surprisingly decent but still fits the mold of most of the films we’ve covered. The most fascinating aspect of the film, though, is that it may indicate a way to determine which version of Adam Sandler we’ll get.
I don’t know if anybody will ever crack the “Adam Sandler code,” in terms of what it takes for the actor to deliver a memorable performance or film. Is it as simple as pairing him with the right director and the right script? While almost all of his performances in non-Happy Madison films are markedly improved (primarily Punch-Drunk Love and The Meyerowitz Stories, also released on Netflix in the same year as this film), there are far too many we’ve covered to debunk that theory. Sandy Wexler is now the fourth collaboration between Sandler and Steven Brill — Little Nicky, Mr. Deeds, and The Do-Over are the other three — so it’s not as if Brill understands Sandler better than anybody else on the Happy Madison director payroll. (That would surely be Dennis Dugan, and we all know the fruits of their labor together.) Rather, the best Happy Madison-Sandler films can relate to Sandler’s personal investment in the material.
As previously discussed, Click was produced as Sandler was turning 40 and expecting his first child, so the film could be seen as a reflective look back on his relationship with his own father. Funny People was a way for him to meditate on his career and his contributions to popular culture. And Sandy Wexler can be seen as Sandler’s loving tribute to someone that has played an integral part in his own rise to fame and continued success in Hollywood.
The film represents one of the few biopics in the Happy Madison filmography and the only one that’s based, even satirically, on a real person. Sandler plays Wexler, a fictionalized version of Sandler’s real-life manager Sandy Wernick, who discovered Sandler before his Saturday Night Live days and helped cultivate his career.
Except for its framing device of a present-day star-studded gathering to honor its titular character, Sandy Wexler takes place in 1994. Sandy is introduced as managing a gang of misfits, including Nick Swardson as a daredevil, Kevin James as a ventriloquist and Jackie Sandler as a middling commercial actress. Wexler soon discovers Courtney Clarke (Jennifer Hudson, yet another actress in a Happy Madison film clearly going above and beyond the material) as a singer at a theme park. Sandy convinces her to sign with him and record an album, and the film follows their various misadventures and shenanigans together as Wexler clearly has no idea how to handle managing anyone with real talent. The film also tries to balance a will-they-or-won’t-they romantic subplot as Courtney and Sandy try not to mix business with pleasure. What is perhaps most remarkable about Sandy Wexler is that none of the story elements mentioned above are entirely successful or nuanced, but the film still manages to flourish in spite of itself.
Few of the jokes and set-pieces could be placed at or near the best — or even the most memorable — of Sandler’s career. Sandler and Hudson have formidable chemistry together, but we’re not terribly invested in the romantic angle of their relationship. Sandler is much more committed to his performance than the majority of his roles lately, but I still wouldn’t rank it as the best of his offerings. Knowing that Sandler is a co-writer of the script (along with Dan Bulla and Paul Sado) when so many of the worst films of this series bear that same distinction makes Sandy Wexler even more mind boggling.
Sometimes an actor or director can crib his or her own personal experiences and stories and put that into a film. Sandler may not initially seem like the type to have many interesting personal stories to put onscreen, but Sandy Wexler improbably shows that when he’s personally and emotionally invested in the material, he can tap into a side of himself that can still surprise us all.
- “I’m Getting Paid How Much?!” Inexplicable Cameo Award: This film probably contains the most cameos of any Happy Madison film we’ll ever cover, even without the “wedding video interview” conceit. But since I was an unabashed “Weird Al” Yankovic fan in the early 1990s, he’s my pick here.
- Just Go With It – The Happy Madison Promise: I’ve touched on it before, but Sandler’s films have become inexplicably long at this stage in his career. At 131 minutes, this film is his longest outside of Funny People. Could it have been cut down to be more palatable? Absolutely, but somehow I didn’t mind the film’s running length as much as I have in earlier, shorter entries.
- Fart Joke Counter: None!
- The Walkout Test: I think this one’s a pass, but I don’t think it would be finished in one sitting.
- NEXT TIME: Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but two former Saturday Night Live castmates team up, with one as the father of the bride in The Week Of.