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.
It surely goes without saying that many Happy Madison films have issues with tone, but few go through as many bizarre tonal shifts as Father of the Year. The film tries to be an American Pie-style hangout comedy, a romantic comedy, a wacky look at fatherhood and manliness and a David Spade vehicle — failing al all of the above and winding up as lifeless, limping mess.
Of course, it’s not impossible for a film to balance multiple tones. But to do so requires a steady hand behind the camera and a singular vision. The Grown-Ups franchise may be the most notorious films to feel like they were written on the fly. But the script for Father of the Year, written by Brandon Cournoyer and Tyler Spindel (the latter of whom also directed), feels like they had setups for jokes and scenarios worked out but never figured out the punchlines.
The story concerns Ben (Joey Bragg) and his group of college-graduate chums as they return to their nameless small town before embarking on their lives in the real world. Enter Spade as Wayne, coming in wicked hawht, and doing his best to not embarrass his son. It’s not clear whether the two were estranged throughout Ben’s life, but the film probably never anticipated any viewers asking that question. Through a series of entirely forgettable events, Ben’s friend Larry (Matt Shively) bets that Wayne can’t beat up Larry’s father, Mary (Nat Faxon), who is effeminate in the way on which Happy Madison has always prided itself. In a frankly impressive feat of storytelling, the screenwriters seem to treat this subplot as both the film’s most and least important aspect. This leads Ben, through an ever-expanding list of events no human has ever achieved in one lifetime, to have to build a pool and begin a relationship with Meredith (Bridgit Mendler). Bragg and Mendler have formidable chemistry, and their storyline is probably the most successful of the film, but it gets lost among the weeds of the remainder of the script.
Beyond the film’s forgettable story, you also have the newly expanded roles of Jackie and Jared Sandler (Adam’s respective wife and nephew). We’ve seen Jackie pop up in nearly every film of this project, but they were mostly bit parts with little to no impact. Here, she’s given more responsibility and still fails to fully justify her inclusion in the film. Her line readings in particular sound like she was never fully clued in to what the film was supposed to be. Jared fares slightly better, if only because his character solely exists to be laughed at. Still, their budding inclusion in Father of the Year speaks to Netflix’s lack of confidence in the project in general. No budgetary figures are readily available (even its Wikipedia page is depressingly sparse), but I can’t imagine the film was too expensive to make. It’s hard not to view the Sandlers’ casting as more than a cost-saving measure.
I’ve heard the frequent joke that the Happy Madison Netflix films are the type that can be absorbed entirely while doing something else. Father of the Year proves that theory correct. I’ve bemoaned the Netflix films as being too long, but Father of the Year could have actually benefited from an extended runtime. Of course, that would mean I’d have to spend even more time with unlikable characters, but the film just dangles so many plot threads without actually investing any stakes in them. As poorly written as they are, the conceit of the dueling paternal approaches is worth exploring from a comedic standpoint. Instead, the film just has too much on its mind, and none of it is particularly interesting much less memorable.
- “I’m Getting Paid How Much?!” Inexplicable Cameo Award: The gatekeeper at the prom is having entirely too much fun for the film in question. But I’ll have to go with Dean Winters, who makes the most of his blandly written role during the wife-carrying race.
- Just Go With It – The Happy Madison Promise: As the film opens, Ben has just recently graduated from college, which typically occurs within the first half of May. Later, Ben and Meredith try to sneak into the local high school’s prom. I don’t know about the Northeastern United States, but in Indiana, most proms occur in April.
- Fart Joke Counter: Just one. Spade films can, surprisingly, always be relied upon to deliver the farts.
- The Walkout Test: I’m pretty sure that once Spade strips down, the TV would promptly be shut off.
- NEXT TIME: Sandler stands up, in 100% Fresh.