Adam Sandler has been an actor I have respected more than I like, especially recently. I loved nearly all the films he made throughout the 1990’s, movies like “Happy Gilmore” and “Billy Madison” and “Big Daddy.” Then around 2001, something happened. There was something about Sandler’s modern career that felt off, like he was taking chances anymore, like he was becoming a sell-out. Nothing Sandler does these days add up to the excitement of his early career or his days on SNL. I personally never thought he’d ever get back to the way things used to be, and much like Eddie Murphy, it seemed Adam Sandler decided to stop being Adam Sandler. Or at the very least, he decided to take on a new lead that didn’t match-up with the rest of his career.
I did not expect much from “Blended,” his new movie with Drew Barrymore. But I had some high hopes for the film. I have always felt that Barrymore and Sandler were a gigantic on-screen couple. They were perfect in “The Wedding Singer” back in 1998, and I felt “50 First Dates” was better than the average fodder Sandler was releasing at the time. There has always been something about Sandler and Barrymore together that has always been exciting, but I felt that Sandler had fallen too far from grace. Could Sandler salvage himself? Could this new experiment by Sandler shatter the test tubes?
So it blindsides me that “Blended” is a splendid surprise. I would not call it perfect, I would not call it a movie I am going to rush out and own, but it is a tremendous step forward. “Blended” is a movie with a lot of heart and soul, two essential ingredients that have been missing from Adam Sandler movies for quite some time. There is a lot of typical Sandler humor in the movie, but there is not a lot of gross or raunchy humor. I think this is the least vulgar Sandler movie to come out in a while and I think the movie benefits from that greatly. The chemistry by Sandler and Barrymore is, once again electric. Their performances elevate the movie and both actors make the audience believe in the absurdities of some of the film’s plot points.
We meet Jim Friedman (Sandler) and Lauren Reynolds (Barrymore) on a blind date. The date is going less than well, but there is a good reason for it. Both Friedman and Reynolds have not been on the market in quite awhile, as Friedman’s wife died of cancer and Reynolds’ husband is completely out of picture. Despite understanding each other’s scenarios, the date still doesn’t go well and Friedman and Reynolds leave at each other’s throats. Sometime later, Friedman takes his three daughters and Reynolds takes her two sons on vacation to Africa. Friedman goes on the trip through a ticket from his boss, a boss who was planning on taking Reynolds friend (Wendi McLendon-Covey) but who dropped out. This loophole gets both the Friedman and Reynolds house to Africa.
Yeah, I agree, it’s a bit of a silly way to get both families in Africa; something I can’t imagine would ever happen in real life. As the film wore on, I was waiting to see more plot elements that would unbelievable and silly. I was waiting for the film to become raunchy and outrageous in a way that would turn me off. Surprisingly, that never happened and I found myself being swept away in the story and the characters. There is a sweet story of the importance of family and the need to find happiness. That moral center coupled with the clever humor was enough for me to like the movie. I think you will all be surprised how well the film works.
While Sandler and Barrymore are both good, the cast is filled with memorable performances. The work by Terry Crews, Kevin Nealon, Joel McHale, Lauren Lapkus, Anna Colwell and Abdoulaye N’Gom is all incredibly impressive, each actor possessing their fair share of funny moments. The real center of the film is the children. The work by Bella Throne, Emma Fuhrmann, Alyvia Lind and Kyle Silverstein is very well done. Sandler is always good at finding good child performances, but in this film he nearly outdoes himself. The children are the glue to the film and I think it also helps that none of them are involved in particularly raunchy scenes.
I will agree that “Blended” is predictable and inconvenient at times. I will also agree that there are certain plot pieces to the film that don’t add up and the film overall is rough around the edges. But hey, at least “Blended” is not another embarrassment; this isn’t another movie that can continue to drive Sandler down a hole. This is a terrific opportunity for Sandler; this could be a small step back into normality. Let’s hope it happens!
FINAL GRADE: B-