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.
For as much harm as Netflix has done to the movie and television industry — and especially the theater experience — the streaming giant can be seen as a force for good in its continued devotion to stand-up comedy specials. Largely dormant in the 2000s outside of HBO and Comedy Central, the genre received an unexpected boom once Netflix started investing more heavily in its own original programming. Truly, some of the best specials from the 2010’s, and some of the best emerging talent, can be found on the platform.
I have no idea how long Adam Sandler had 100% Fresh in the works before its premiere, but the film can certainly be seen as the comedian trying his hardest to recapture his past glory that catapulted him to fame at the onset of his career. Between 1993 and 1999, Sandler released four comedy albums, with one more coming in 2004. He was understandably too busy to produce any more in the intervening years, which makes 100% Fresh feel even more like a reunion tour of sorts. Nostalgia, and the desire to return to the good ol’ days, is a recurring theme in plenty of Happy Madison films (the ones featuring Sandler in particular). So when viewed through that lens, it makes sense why he would want to return to his roots.
Sandler jumps right into the jokes as soon as the spotlight comes on, and it’s clear that he enjoys his time on stage. If the film highlights anything, it’s Sandler’s almost pathological need to make people laugh. There’s a recurring segment that receives an unfortunately small amount of screen time, but is still equally fascinating nonetheless, where Sandler stages an impromptu set in a subway tunnel. The material is as funny as what we see on stage, but the onlookers seem almost unfazed by what they’re seeing. It could have been just as interesting to see Sandler’s reaction to their non-reaction, but the bit still works overall. Regardless, the special is stitched together beautifully (directed by Steven Brill, who’s become quite close with Sandler lately).
100% Fresh begins with Sandler in a series of smaller venues and comedy clubs and eventually grows to stadiums and outdoor concerts, all filled to the brim with his adoring fans. And lest the fans be worried that Sandler has lost his comedic touch in the years since he was last on stage — and since he starred in genuine stinkers like Jack and Jill and Grown-Ups 2 — the jokes are almost all solid, landing genuine laughs from his adoring audience.
Sandler’s material is a healthy mix of quickly constructed jingles and standard-issue stand-up fodder that wouldn’t be out of place in a George Simmons routine, trying to belay his everyman personality. Subjects like his daughter’s love for basketball and his awkward Jewish upbringing come fast and furious. Still, it’s strange that Sandler would directly reference his cinematically unsavory reputation with the special’s title but never directly address it on stage.
And then the finale hits, and we see a new, raw side of Sandler that hasn’t seeped through the cracks of the sugar-coated Happy Madison veneer in a long time. In the early days of Happy Madison, Sandler made several attempts to shoehorn in references to his late friend Chris Farley but hasn’t found the means to do so lately. I can remember videos popping up around the internet once Sandler’s tribute got out, but had forgotten that it would be part of 100% Fresh. I don’t remember the last time I can say that I was genuinely surprised by Adam Sandler, but the closing minutes are incredibly surprising. Not just in its subject matter, and not just in how much it differs from the film that precedes it, but in how genuine and heartfelt it is.
For as easy as it looks on paper, the life of a stand-up comedian is no joke — even for one as accomplished as Sandler. The days are long and filled with travel, and the nights are just as long and stressful. Given Sandler’s recent reputation for taking the easy way out, it’s as surprising as it is admirable that he would take his act on the road. It can be hard to forget that behind the gay panic jokes and lazy romantic comedies, there lies a comedian with a natural talent that people enjoy. Here’s hoping Sandler doesn’t take another decade off from stand-up to remind us of that fact.
- “I’m Getting Paid How Much?!” Inexplicable Cameo Award: Irrelevant (except for the Rob Schneider appearance).
- Just Go With It – The Happy Madison Promise: Also irrelevant!
- Fart Joke Counter: Irrelevant again!
- The Walkout Test: I don’t think the person in question has ever seen a stand-up special in their life, but this one would be turned off very quickly. Fail.
- NEXT TIME: Something something Clue ripoff. Something something Europe. Something something Murder Mystery. Something something who cares.