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.
The Week Of represents the last of the initial four-picture deal between Happy Madison and Netflix. So what progress, if any, have we seen? Or, perhaps more accurately, what progress have we seen from Adam Sandler? The deal got off to a rocky, typical start with The Ridiculous 6 in spite of what Netflix’s “data” indicates. Though Netflix wasn’t nearly as prolific in early 2018 as it is now, the streaming giant put out plenty of offerings that were quickly and easily disposed of soon after their release. None of Happy Madison’s Netflix films have so far left a long-standing impression, but some growth can clearly be seen.
The Week Of surely wouldn’t be as successful as it is without the writing and direction of Robert Smigel, a long-time friend of both Sandler and co-star Chris Rock, as well as one of the unheralded secrets to Saturday Night Live’s long term success. Perhaps even more astounding is that the film is Smigel’s first and only feature film as a director over the course of his long career. Smigel’s familiarity with both stars surely helped him craft the jokes that work best for each actor’s sensibilities. Sure, the hallmarks of earlier Sandler films can be seen throughout The Week Of, but far subtler character-based humor is the foundation for most of the jokes. Beyond those character beats, Smigel smartly grounds the film in semi-realistic situational comedy rather than grandiose setpieces (always followed, of course, by a corny reaction shot or one-liner from a child) that can be found throughout Sandler’s late career.
Consider the bachelor party scene, which contains a “blink and you’ll miss it” moment with an 11-year old playing dodgeball with a stripper. Where Dennis Dugan likely would have made that moment a centerpiece of the scene, Smigel barely hangs on it for more than a few seconds. Never mind, though, that the scene ends on a typical Sandler beat, with a legless old man falling into a ball pit and dying. The Week Of is thankfully littered with smaller comedic beats more aligned with the former moment than the latter. Even the racial dynamics are remarkably restrained.
If there’s one disappointment to be found in The Week Of, it’s in the under-utilization of Rock. One of the better stand-up comedians of his generation — and certainly the best among his Happy Madison chums — Rock has never fully been given the spotlight in any Happy Madison film. Before this, his best role was probably in The Longest Yard, where he still barely gets any oxygen amongst its massive cast. Rock is solid in his emotional moments later in the film, but they emerge too abruptly. The film is set up as a two-hander, but Sandler and Rock have shockingly few scenes and interactions with each other. The film would be markedly improved if the two had more opportunities to bounce off one another, like in the final moment as the end credits play.
Meanwhile, The Week Of may actually be one of Sandler’s best performances. (I know. I’m as shocked as you.) He nails the big, sensitive scene at the end in which he frets over the prospect of giving away his first-born child. But he’s also understatedly smart in the way he portrays his character’s mounting exasperation, especially in his interactions with the hotel manager (although I can’t defend his unnecessarily broad Long Islander accent).
“I don’t know, this kinda seems like the final act to me,” Chris Rock says in the closing moments of The Week Of. “No, this is just the start of the next phase,” Sandler responds. Perhaps it’s the optimist in me coming out, but the line almost feels like a meta acknowledgment that the actor’s prior mindset is in the rear-view mirror. Perhaps this is damning The Week Of with faint praise, but sometimes it’s refreshing to see Sandler when he’s not simply clad in baggy shorts and T-shirts. The Week Of won’t win any accolades for its comedic ingenuity or its fresh take on the Father of the Bride conceit, nor does it deserve those. But it’s remarkable that only five years before its release, Sandler and Rock had reached their collective nadirs with Grown-Ups 2, and Happy Madison had released plenty of more forgettable schlock in the intervening years. Compared to that output, The Week Of is a revelation.
- “I’m Getting Paid How Much?!” Inexplicable Cameo Award: A surprisingly light offering this week! While I loved Nasser Faris and his take on the deranged hotel owner, I always love seeing Rob Morgan pop up — especially when he’s in San Francisco! It was great seeing him here, no matter how underserved he is.
- Just Go With It – The Happy Madison Promise: Is it realistic to hold a funeral the day after someone dies? Nope, but the plot necessitates it, so it must happen.
- Fart Joke Counter: Another spot-free entry.
- The Walkout Test: Pass!
- NEXT TIME: The daddy issues continue, with David Spade this time, in Father of the Year.