We all know that guy, maybe in high school or college, who was a complete idiot most of the time. This is the guy who ran naked through the football field at Homecoming or would eat anything at lunch for a quarter. You know the type. Years later, you may have seen him with his family and thought to yourself, “How the heck does he have kids?”
That’s the way I felt about Adam Sandler. After seeing his wacked-out characters in everything from Billy Madison to Happy Gilmore to The Waterboy, I wondered how anyone could cast him as a caring, down-to-earth father figure. After all, he’d spent most of his adult life playing an angry man-child.
Then, Sandler was cast as a father in two separate movies, Big Daddy (in 1999) and Click (2006). The first was an edgier Sandler, forced to play the role of a reluctant surrogate father. In the second, Sandler takes on a different kind of role filled with emotion, pathos and a bit of magic as he plays a man trying to make time for his family and his career.
The question is, which film best captures Sandler’s charm to make us look past his goofy tendencies and appreciate his dad appeal?
The premise of Click is a new twist on a familiar idea. The story of a magical item that gives the user untold power is as old as Aladdin’s lamp. This mystical object can be an ancient artifact (Night at the Museum), a gold watch (The Girl, The Gold Watch & Everything), a mirror (Harry Potter, Snow White) — or a remote control. In every case it turns into a cautionary tale about choices and consequences.
Adam Sandler plays Michael Newman, a husband and father who is pulled between his obligations to his family and to his job. When he decides to buy a universal remote control to make his life less complicated, he gets a bit more than he bargained for.
Michael soon discovers the remote has some undocumented features. Not only does it control the television, it also allows Michael to fast-forward through a cold morning shower, to skip through arguments with his wife (Kate Beckinsale), and to pause the world so he can vent his anger toward his boss (David Hasselhoff). Of course, there’s a price to be paid for such power. Michael finds the remote has a life of its own and he can’t do anything to stop his life from passing by.
The Defending Champion
Sandler plays Sonny Koufax, a young man who is not exactly ready for responsibility. One day a child enters his life, a young boy named Julian. Julian’s mother has dropped him off, sight unseen, hoping the boy’s father will take care of him. But it isn’t Sonny’s child. He belongs to his roommate Kevin (Jon Stewart), who is out of the country on business.
It’s no surprise when Sonny begins to discover there’s more to taking care of a child than just babysitting. It’s a full-time job with some unpleasant moments. Yet, he is determined to be a better father to Julian than his own father was to him.
Prior to Big Daddy, Adam Sandler played a dim-witted waterboy or a slacker golfer. It was his typical schtick, playing a self-effacing role for laughs. But here Sandler is attempting something different, bringing laughs and tears in his new comedy.
I was more than a little skeptical at the idea of Sandler in this kind of role. After seeing him play a geek repeatedly, playing a role model for anyone seemed a stretch. Yet Big Daddy is a perfect vehicle for Sandler’s humor and charm and allows him to spread his acting wings a little.
Soon the story turns away from the slapstick visual (and often gross) humor characteristic of Sandler. It becomes a story of father-son relationships and tries hard to make a statement.
I’m not predicting any award nominations in Sandler’s future, but Big Daddy is a nice story with a heartwarming moral. It says some very positive things about family and fatherhood at a time in our country when so many fathers do not want to take responsibility. More important than the message, is the fact that Sandler can pull it off. He’s not just about silly jokes and sight gags. He has a heart, and it’s on display here nicely.
In Click, Sandler plays Michael as a likeable guy, whose need to get promoted is based on his love for his family. He wants them to have the best of everything, so we forgive the blind career-driven ambition. But while the audience sees him quickly spiraling out of control, it takes Michael most of the movie before he understands what he is losing.
Although Sandler has yet to make a sequel to any of his films, each one is a reunion of various friends from previous casts. Adding to the delightful cast of Big Daddy is the familiar face of Josh Mostel as a social services worker. Saturday Night Live alum Rob Schneider played a small role as a villager in Sandler’s The Waterboy and appears here as a delivery man who is Sonny’s best friend. Steve Buscemi pops up as a homeless man who befriends Sonny and Julian.
Henry Winkler and Julie Kavner are a delight in guest cameos as Michael’s parents in Click. The real scene stealer, though, is Christopher Walken. Morty (Walken) is the quirky technician who gives Michael the remote. His unexpected singing and dancing and his lust for Michael’s “smokin’ hot” wife bring much needed comic relief from what is a pretty grim tale.
Click suffers from marketing over-exposure. The bits used in the previews have been seen by movie- goers so many times that often the big laughs go unappreciated by the audience. Seeing Sandler move a kid’s glove so he gets smacked in the face by a baseball is only funny the first couple of times.
For a Sandler comedy, Click isn’t wildly funny. Unlike Sandler’s more inane comedies, it tells a story that doesn’t rely on displays of comedic rage and fart jokes (although there are some). This is a softer comedy, one that more mature crowds will appreciate. The question is, will Sandler’s fans appreciate it? Are they expecting another Happy Gilmore or have they too matured?
The real winner is Big Daddy, which allows Sandler to grow a little as an actor. But it does so within the context of a Sandleresque comedy that is genuinely funny. This is a movie for all us inept fathers, who try hard even when it looks like we’re just making it up as we go.