Heartless Shameless Ugliness
Is it too overblown to suggest that what passes for the modern American mainstream comedy has finally descended into the downright sociopathic? The relentless cruelty of this ugly, rancid movie requires a shocking lack of empathy for one’s fellow humans if one is going to laugh at it — it is alleged to be a comedy, after all — until the moment when the film expects you to be able to turn your humanity back on for the would-be heartwarming bits… or at least that you will be able to fake it, like a sociopath does. Or like Grown Ups does.
The nightmare of Grown Ups is that it really does think it has something wise and wonderful to offer nostalgic Generation Xers: a warm glow of long ago summer days before videogames, when we played outside all day and had to be dragged in once the streetlights came on, a lost innocence concerned with nothing more than skipping stones and splashing in the pool and, I dunno, eating bologna sandwiches and catching fireflies and stuff. Sure, it’s a lovely portrait. But Ted Bundy was charming too. And if we’re to take this lovely portrait at face value, then we must also accept that the five men doing all the reminiscing are as pointlessly, shamelessly vicious as they are depicted to be, and that the spitefully venomous perspective of the film itself on these men is also an honest reflection of what director Dennis Dugan (You Don’t Mess With the Zohan, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry) and screenwriters Adam Sandler and Fred Wolf believe their audience will identitfy with.
These five guys, who haven’t seen one another in years, reunite for the funeral of their youth basketball coach, and none of them have actually grown up, merely gotten older and, it seems, infinitely more malicious. The characters — played by a rogues gallery of juvenile idiots: Sandler (Funny People, Bedtime Stories), Kevin James (Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Barnyard), Chris Rock (Death at a Funeral, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa), David Spade (The Benchwarmers, Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star), and Rob Schneider (You Don’t Mess With the Zohan, Click) — don’t think they’re malicious, of course, and neither does the film: they’re just regular guys getting together to catch up and chat about the old days. These are, we’re meant to accept, ordinary guys with lives that everyone will see their own in. Their kids are terrible brats (they appear not to realize this is at least partly their fault). And their wives run the gamut from emasculating to embarrassing, but are never less than way out of their league — Sandler is married to Salma Hayek (Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant, Lonely Hearts)? James is married to Maria Bello (The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, The Jane Austen Book Club)? — except for Schneider’s, played by the much older Joyce Van Patten (Marley & Me), because clearly endless hilarity is to be found in a man who finds an older woman attractive enough to actually marry.
Grown Ups purports to have been “written,” but it plays as if the guys are merely sitting in the back of the classroom of life, smirking and lobbing spitballs and meanspirited quips at everything about adult life that confounds their adolescent mindset. I’m sure I’ve joked before about how I wanted to cry, a movie was so bad, but I actually was driven to the verge of tears — of horror and frustration and despair — by the nonstop barrage of callous indifference to and detachment from anything remotely resembling human sympathy here. Anyone who deviates in the slightest way from a narrow range of preceived notions about what we’re all “supposed” to be is open to ridicule: men who aren’t “masculine” “enough” and women who aren’t “feminine” “enough” just about covers it, though anyone who dares to act as if they don’t appreciate the boundaries they’re supposed to adhere to comes in for a lashing of scorn and derision, too. Variations on those crude, merciless “jokes” will be repeated, again and again.
And then… and then, after all that, we’re intended to take lessons about kindness and understanding from Grown Ups? After Adam Sandler has sneered his way through this hatefest, he’s gonna tell us what the right thing to do is?
Not only does Grown Ups have no heart, it has no shame.