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 the penultimate entry in this journey to the Happy Valley, I’m joined for one final roundtable discussion to discuss 2020’s The Wrong Missy with Mitch Ringenberg, a writer for Midwest Film Journal and fellow member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association.
Ben Sears: Mitch, thanks for joining me on this tropical vacation to the Happy Valley. The Wrong Missy is the second David Spade film under the Happy Madison-Netflix deal (third if you count the two-hander with Adam Sandler in The Do-Over), and all of the rest heavily feature Sandler. Why do you think Happy Madison chose Spade as its secondary poster boy, especially after such a long hiatus from the spotlight and letting other stars like Kevin James take over? So many of today’s TV series feel like elongated movies, and The Wrong Missy feels to me like a (very bad) sitcom pilot. Did you get those vibes as well?
Mitch Ringenberg: David Spade has an incredibly specific comedic brand that’s no doubt an exaggerated play on his real-life persona; he’s the sardonic asshole who’s at his best when he has an unhinged comedic foil to whom he can play the straight man. That’s why his work with Chris Farley in Tommy Boy and Black Sheep remains far and away his most remembered; his mocking cynicism is a nice balance to Farley’s lunacy, and it’s clear The Wrong Missy was hoping to strike that familiar chemistry between him and Lauren Lapkus as well. I mean, Spade’s character here is a straight-up carbon copy of his turns in those Farley films; the fun-sucking, overworked wet blanket who watches his onscreen counterpart’s antics with increasing exasperation.
I think when Spade has tried to step out of his comfort zone (see his lead turn in the dreadful 1999 rom-com Lost & Found), it mostly hasn’t worked. I imagine that’s why he was largely relegated to TV gigs for the last couple decades. And speaking of TV, I can certainly see what you mean with your claim that The Wrong Missy feels like an elongated sitcom pilot, but I think that has far less to do with Spade than it does Lapkus. Missy is a human tornado, and Lapkus throws herself into the role like a woman possessed. Missy is the kind of person who will pull a Bowie knife on you one minute and then give you a vigorous, nonconsensual hand job the next. (Speaking of which, there is a deeply troubling amount of sexual assault that gets shrugged off in this movie that we simply must discuss further.)
You can absolutely see Missy being a Steve-Urkel-like sitcom character for whom the writers conjure new, wacky situations to throw her in each week. That said, and let me issue a caveat by saying while I by no means think The Wrong Missy is a good movie, I also … didn’t hate it? I don’t recall Lapkus from anything else I’ve seen, but I can’t deny that I was sort of stunned by her commitment to her performance. She is a total live-wire in the same way Jim Carrey, or more appropriately, Farley was 25 years ago. Almost every gag in The Wrong Missy is tired and juvenile, but she makes the whole enterprise watchable, and to me, that’s a commendable feat. What did you think of Lapkus? Were you similarly taken? Or was she not enough to make this more than an endurance task?
BS: Your connection of Spade / Farley to Spade / Lapkus absolutely makes sense, but there’s a clear distinction that makes the former the better pairing than the latter. Chemistry is a term thrown around in film criticism an awful lot, and it’s what made Spade and Farley so formidable. With those collaborations, you can easily see their years-long friendship coming through on the screen. In The Wrong Missy, it’s as if Spade didn’t know what he was getting himself into when they cast Lapkus.
I had seen Lapkus in Jurassic World and the Between Two Ferns movie, but I have mostly known her from her prolific podcasting career, especially on Comedy Bang! Bang! She brings the exact same amount of live-wire energy to her audio performances as she does here, so I’m glad she was given enough room to breathe and be herself. I can’t imagine another female comedian in this film because it would have been even more unbearable. Lapkus manages to make it out alive from this film, and I’m glad that other critics caught on and were similarly smitten by her and her willingness to do anything for a joke. I only pray she doesn’t get sucked down into the long-term Happy Madison vortex as a result of this film and that she can continue to find roles that suit her comedic abilities.
Lapkus as Missy is grating and horrifying (and yes, we absolutely do need to discuss the depictions — plural! — of nonconsensual sex in the film), which is exactly what the film intends for us to feel. And we know that the third act will see Spade falling for her, but did you buy what the film was selling by that point? Lapkus gives a decent enough performance in those moments, but I don’t know if the script set up their reunion enough to make us want, or care, about seeing them end up together. How did you feel about Spade’s inevitable change of heart?
MR: You’re spot-on about the lack of chemistry between Lapkus and Spade. Even setting aside the age difference between the two (which Lapkus at least briefly acknowledges), I just never for a second bought that these two characters even existed in the same universe let alone would genuinely fall in love. I think that, to me, is what makes Lapkus’ performance (as good as I think it is) a bit discordant from everything else; it’s a display of legitimate craft and effort in a movie that otherwise comes across as thoroughly lazy. It’s not that Spade is bad per se, but this is the sort of thing he can do in his sleep.
However, in this case, I think his nonplussed reactions to Missy’s antics here are a bit hard to buy. Mere hours after they’re on a plane together, she starts jerking him off while he’s asleep, and even after he protests that the other passengers can clearly see what’s happening, she doesn’t let up. The joke then climaxes (sorry) with the other passengers offering Missy some Kleenex to wipe up Spade’s mess. Har har har. More horrific still is when Spade wakes up from a dream to see Missy full-on raping him, and again, the movie just kind of shrugs it off. This woman is an actual psychopath, but every character seems to just kind of put up with her.
So yeah, as far as Spade’s inevitable change of heart goes, I obviously couldn’t buy it. Missy has absolutely no inner life; she’s essentially the Tasmanian Devil, some kind of chaos agent there to execute the screenplay’s gags. Thus, when the story requires her feelings to be hurt by Spade, it seems out of line with everything we’ve seen from her character thus far. She’s all action, no reaction.
One thing I also found distracting was how inconsistent the brand of comedy here was. Much of the setting seems like it’s similar to our own world, but then Lapkus will fall off a 300-foot cliff and survive. It alternates between generic romantic comedy and a straight-up cartoon without any sense of internal logic. Did you feel that as well?
BS: You’re inching ever so close to what took me out of the movie the most (and wording it a lot more eloquently!). The Wrong Missy contains zero real human beings. I get that comedies, by design, are supposed to have heightened characters and situations, but at no point does anybody display any real human characteristics. Even Molly Sims, who probably comes closest to a normal human, is simply an unattainable Dream Girl. If any of these scenarios were to play out in the real world, the film would be over in the first 10 minutes. You can’t even argue that the film is commenting on people’s generally welcoming reactions to uncomfortable situations because Happy Madison has never displayed such a level of self-awareness that would be necessary to comment on that idea.
The cliff-diving scene was one of the most bonkers moments in this film, for all the wrong reasons. We know that Missy can’t be stuck in a full body cast for the rest of the film, but there has to be some way to show how insane she is. It seems to exist because the crew was given permission to shoot on that location and they couldn’t figure out a better use for it. I’d be fine with a wacky Naked Gun-style comedy (and I think Lapkus would shine in one of those, too), where the rules of the physical world don’t apply. I’d also be fine with a generic romantic comedy, even with the bones of this plot. Happy Madison has had successful entries in both of those genres. But The Wrong Missy never fully drops itself into either one of those buckets.
And then there’s the flippant use of sexual assault to which we’ve alluded. Happy Madison has had a notoriously bad, long-standing track record with gender politics, but this stood out like a sore thumb. Even post-Me Too, it’s a bridge too far. I can easily picture the writers and their justification: “Nonconsensual sex against women is bad, but nonconsensual sex against men is funny! What guy in his right mind would turn down sex with a beautiful woman???” What’s most obnoxious about it is that the film doesn’t need either of those instances whatsoever. It’s already clearly established that Missy is deranged and that she has no boundaries when it comes to having sex or discussing it. It simply comes across as the film trying to be raunchy when it could do so in a million other ways.
Does that criticism make sense? Is there any world where either of those scenes could come off as logical or — gasp! — funny? Do you think The Wrong Missy will have any long-lasting legacy at all? Even in the crapshoot of 2020, the film barely registered. Part of that is surely because of the Netflix model of “throw as much crap at the wall and see what sticks,” but part of that is the overall blandness of the film. Without Lapkus’s performance, The Wrong Missy would already cease to exist. Where do you think Spade and Lapkus go from here? Do you see her appearing in more Happy Madison films? (For the non-die-hard readers of this column, this is actually Lapkus’ second appearance in a Happy Madison film, after her cameo in Blended). And by extension, do you want to see her in more Happy Madison films?
MR: I’ve long subscribed to Roger Ebert’s dogma of, “It’s not what a movie is about, it’s how it is about it.” So I’m not saying the filmmakers here couldn’t have found a way to mine humor from Spade’s getting assaulted, but I sincerely do not think the Happy Madison folks are the ones to do it.
If The Wrong Missy is to have any long-lasting legacy at all, I imagine it is one where people might watch it in order to go back and see Lapkus in an early role before she breaks out as the comedic force-to-be-reckoned-with that (at least I believe) she deserves. If there’s any merit here, it is certainly that Happy Madison allowed the actress to chew as much scenery as she pleased, and honestly, that’s not nothing. I really can’t overstate how impressed I was with her dedication here, so — incredulously — I must admit I didn’t find The Wrong Missy to be a waste of time. Would I want to see her in more Happy Madison films? Not particularly … but if I see her headlining one and it comes across my Netflix screen someday? Yeah, I’ll throw it on, especially if I’ve had a couple drinks.
BS: As dumb and lazy as this film is, I agree that it’s hard to be mad at it. Plus, at least it’s mercifully short at only 90 minutes — something most of the Netflix films have woefully avoided. Far too many Happy Madison films, since the production company’s inception, just barely squeak by enough to be tolerable. Whether it’s a memorable performance or a unique concept, or just by virtue of being so overly bland, you have to simply take these films at face value. Should we, as a moviegoing public, be mad that Sandler’s late-stage films are poor excuses for him and his friends and family (including, in this film, his wife and kids and nephew,) to go on vacation? Absolutely, but at least, in the case of The Wrong Missy, we have a really fun performance from Lapkus as a silver lining. And that’s not something that can be found in most of these films, where the Spades and Sandlers and Jameses suck up all the oxygen in the room.
Mitch, thanks once again for joining me in jumping off the dangerous cliff that is the Happy Madison filmography. I can only hope that, like Lapkus herself, you’re able to get back up, unbruised and unscathed. Now if you’ll excuse me, I must jet off to Hawaii … to write my next review.
- “I’m Getting Paid How Much?!” Inexplicable Cameo Award: Bobby Lee, of MadTV fame, gets a thankless role as a hotel desk clerk, but my pick this time is Jorge Garcia. After getting one of the titular roles in The Ridiculous 6, he’s cast here in one scene, in which he pretends to be asleep for half of his screen time.
- Just Go With It – The Happy Madison Promise: Nothing terribly egregious this week! Most of the events at the retreat ring as false plot contrivances, especially the shark-diving scene, but far worse have come forward throughout this series.
- Fart Joke Counter: None!
- The Walkout Test: This one’s tough. The jarringly short runtime certainly helps, but I think this movie is far too weird and horny to make it all the way through.
- NEXT TIME: We bid a spooky farewell to the films of Happy Madison (so far) with the holiday-centric Hubie Halloween.