Somewhere within Grown Ups is a film that can be taken seriously. There are good themes at work: Friendship, family, generation gaps, the ups and downs of marriage, whether or not aging is the same as maturing. The problem is, none of it shines through the murk of its incessant low grade comedy; rather than make us laugh with genuinely funny material, writers Adam Sandler and Fred Wolf rely on juvenile jokes that put all emphasis on unrealistic personality quirks. It’s all character and no development. They also go for unpleasant sight gags, including bodily harm, unwanted brief nudity, urinating in the pool, and worst of all, several awkward and disgusting references to breast milk. Forget about the characters – the filmmakers are the ones that need to grow up.
The premise centers on five friends, who as kids back in 1978 were part of their school’s Basketball team. Thirty years later, we find each of them living completely different lives. Lenny Feder (Sandler) is a successful Hollywood agent. Eric Lamonsoff (Kevin James) claims he’s the head of a lawn furniture company. Kurt McKenzie (Chris Rock) is a stay-at-home dad. Rob Hilliard (Rob Schneider) is a holistic typecast who seemingly always preferred older women. The only one of the group to have escaped marriage and family is Marcus Higgins (David Spade), an overage sexaholic party animal. Upon the death of the coach who led them to victory, they return to their New England hometown with their families and spend the Fourth of July holiday at a lakeside summer house; here, the five friends will reminisce, fight, rediscover, reveal, and, according to the film’s title, grow.
For Lenny, it’s a personal mission to get his family to see what real life is like. His wife, Roxanne (Salma Hayek Pinault), is a workaholic fashion designer with an impending show in Milan. His two adolescent sons are spoiled, addicted to texting and violent video games, always waited on hand and foot, preferring imported bottled water, accustomed to five-star accommodations at hotels, and apparently unaware that television sets existed before the days of flat screens. They bring along their nanny, a tiresome Asian stereotype (Di Quon), although Lenny desperately tries to convince his friends that she a foreign exchange student and not hired help. Something could have been made of this had it not been overshadowed by shallow, obvious humor; his kids are ridiculous Hollywood caricatures with no traces of believability, and his wife is stylistically out of place, not at all helped by the fact that Salma Hayek was wrong for the role.
Other bizarre personalities emerge. Eric’s wife, Sally (Maria Bello), still breastfeeds their four-year-old son, and as it so happens, the kid constantly craves milk. Kurt’s pregnant wife, Deanne (Maya Rudolph), always takes him for granted and can never say anything nice about his cooking; the same goes for her mother (Ebony Jo-Ann), who’s always butting in and has terrible bunions. Rob’s wife, Gloria (Joyce Van Patten), is in her mid seventies, while his three daughters – two of them smoking hot bimbos, one a dorky misfit – spend as much time as they can being the source of many appearance-related jokes. Rob is the film’s worst character, fleshed out solely by exaggerated holistic traits and general social and physical oddness; one wonders how he could ever be friends with the other four, or rather, how they could ever be friends with him.
The film’s climax involves a Basketball rematch between the five friends and their former rivals, led by Colin Quinn, who always believed the game from thirty years ago was unfairly won. While there is a moral to this scene, it doesn’t resonate, and that’s because it’s masked by the film’s immature tone. It’s also delivered far too late in the story, at which point we no longer care about the characters or their circumstances. I’m well aware that humor can often times be found in very serious situations, but that’s not what’s going on here; it’s a sophomoric and silly buddy film through and through. The more reserved and mature themes near the end seem like afterthoughts, as if Sandler and Wolf decided at the last minute to decided to tack them on. That way, their screenplay could actually be about something.
To me, this isn’t a question of whether or not you’re an Adam Sandler fan. I say this because every review I’ve read seems to think this somehow matters: “If you’re an Adam Sandler fan, you’re going to like this movie.” How about if you’re a fan of comedy? I think that’s the real criteria, here. I very much consider myself a fan. The thing is, even comedies should have standards, and in the case of Grown Ups, they’re in short supply. It has no ambition other than to be goofy and gross. It generates laughs not by respecting the intelligence of the audience, but simply by appealing to the lowest common denominator. On a more positive note, I will give David Spade credit for being the only actor I know of to successfully say “grody,” a word that hasn’t been popular for quite some time.