Last summer, I got a lot of flack for my review of Grown Ups 2, which I claimed was “definitely not as horrible as it’d been made out to be.” Almost a year later, I’m here to review the latest Adam Sandler movie, and I’m glad to have placed that previous one at a high enough level, with a high enough grade, to give some perspective on how much worse the new one is.
Grown Ups 2 is just a harmless and mostly plotless and somewhat surreal lowbrow comedy. Blended, on the other hand, is the actual sort of cinematic stain we’ve come to associate with Sandler, yet probably even worse than fits his reputation. This is a movie that has multiple jokes about various-aged daughters’ vaginas, mainly regarding the size of them and wiping them, humor that will make you cringe because it’s inappropriate (and to a degree inaccurate) rather than awkward, as cringe-humor is meant to be.
There is also a lot of material derived from the sexuality of teenagers, which isn’t necessarily out of line as subject matter but which is handled with bad form for a movie that wants to somehow be both a sweet family film and a raunchy rom-com. It’s one thing to depict a boy in the early stages of puberty as a total horndog shamefully obsessed with pornography, his babysitter and the jiggle of a woman’s breasts, but a shot of him zoning in on a woman’s crotch with binoculars followed by a camel toe joke just seems too far.
There’s a tone and context to Blended for which gags like that — and one where another boy gazes at a 15-year-old girl while Boyz II Men’s “I’ll Make Love to You” plays — don’t match up. Not when there’s also hardcore rhinoceros sex and close-up tracking shots of Hooters waitresses’ asses and enough innuendo to make this implicitly an R-rated comedy.
Terry Crews represents the movie perfectly as an emcee (and leader of the movie’s redundancy prone Greek chorus) at a resort in South Africa where most of the movie is set (for no real narrative necessity). This is supposed to be a family establishment, one specifically devoted to catering to newlyweds with children from previous marriages, as these step-families are in the early stages of “blending.” But Crews stands before them gyrating heavily like an out-of-place Chippendales dancer. In the crowd at this resort is a widower named Jim (Sandler) and his three girls, as well as the recently divorced Lauren (Drew Barrymore) and her two boys. The adults despise each other, having earlier gone out on a disastrous blind date, but they’re paired up on the vacation when each takes half of a trip bought by a character who conveniently happens to have five kids but had to bail at the last minute.
Jim and Lauren’s mutual connection isn’t the most contrived aspect of the scenario. That he has daughters and she has sons is not just some backward play on the Brady Bunch premise. It gives us a chance to plainly see how in need Jim’s children are of a mother and how in need Lauren’s children are of a father. Examples include Jim’s ignorance regarding feminine products (the movie has its own ignorance, by the way) and how to dress and groom his daughters so they fall into gender normalcy. Never mind that the girls’ names include Larry (short for Hillary at least), Lou and ESPN (which sadly isn’t that uncommon a baby name today, though it’s really only given to boys), as surely Jim’s late wife had some say in those choices. Lauren’s need is less to do with her own faults as with her ex-husband’s, because he’s not interested in being there for his sons when it comes to little league or the birds and the bees.
So Lauren ends up helping with tampon purchases and getting the oldest daughter a makeover so she’s no longer mistaken for a boy, and Jim gives the one son confidence in his batting and also helps encourage stupid, dangerous guy stuff that only a father can stereotypically do. Of course, the two parents start to fall for one another based on how well they’re doing with the other’s kids, never mind that Jim and Lauren are both displaying the most basic qualities of being a man and woman so that literally any other person of the opposite sex could have won them over with the same gendered traits and actions. Lou likes that Lauren wipes more gently? She must be perfect solely for Jim! And he knows about sports and girly mags and fun? What an exclusively ideal husband and father for Lauren and her boys!
It only kind of makes sense that they work it out because Sandler and Barrymore have impeccable chemistry. This is their third movie together, following The Wedding Singer and 50 First Dates, and they’re good enough as a pair that they should be co-starring more. And they don’t have to be the lowbrow answer to Tracy and Hepburn or Powell and Loy, either. Strangely enough, when united on screen, they’re both pretty reserved. Enough that I thought it was due to Barrymore’s influence until seeing her talk and act more blue than usual for Going the Distance. If Blended were strictly made up of scenes where they’re alone together, it would be a fine rom-com. I honestly enjoy watching them as a duo, always have.
Unfortunately there are a lot of other characters in this movie and a lot of other things going on, most of which is to appease an audience who wants to laugh at lengthy mistaken-for-lesbian routines, slapstick involving parasailing mishaps on safari and cracks at things that have happened to Kim Kardashian on her reality show. I always feel the need to relay in reviews for movies like this that the audience I saw it with was all but rolling down the aisles with laughter. I figure that it works for certain adults who maybe have kids and want to take part in making fun of what it’s like to have kids, but I would hope they wouldn’t bring those kids in spite of the rating being only PG-13. They probably wouldn’t enjoy the movie’s countering of all the raunch and slapstick with the extremely sappy sentimental stuff with the girls’ dead mother anyway.
Blended doesn’t get it right with that attempt at a balancing act, but it does enough to make me think there is a good movie to be made about the blending situation. Something with a better structural and tonal blending, like Parenthood, for instance. There really is something to the relationship between kids in the early stages of sexual development and parents entering a new stage of sexualization that comes with remarriage. There are hints of a brilliant psychological dynamic in paralleling the horny son — who is on the line of discovering masturbation yet also still bordering the maternal infatuation stage — and an overly lascivious couple played by Kevin Nealon and Jessica Lowe. I don’t believe that co-writers Ivan Menchell (of Disney Channel’s Jonas) and Clare Sera or director Frank Coraci (The Wedding Singer) intended for anything so smart, but I’m glad they gave me at least one thing to consider on an intellectual level.
The Upside: Sandler and Barrymore’s chemistry; as daughter Larry, Bella Thorne shows potential to be her generation’s Molly Ringwald; and there’s one Frodo joke that I admittedly laughed out loud for.
The Downside: Too explicitly and implicitly raunchy and inappropriate to be a family film, yet too sappy at times, as in ABC Family style, to be the R-rated comedy it seems to want to be; and the jokes that are wrong are really, really wrong, as in beyond uncomfortable as funny to be uncomfortable as inappropriate; the lack of narrative reason for the movie to be set in South Africa makes it all seem like it was done so the cast and crew themselves could visit the real resort they filmed at.
On the Side: Once again, Rob Schneider is absent from another Sandler movie, for whatever reason. Apparently, in Schneider’s stead, Sandler’s new movie BFF is Shaquille O’Neal, for better or worse.