“The Wedding Singer” (1998)
First off, before you scroll to the comment section, we know “The Wedding Singer” is not a Happy Madison production, but we would be remiss not to include it in an Adam Sandler retrospective. One of the first, if not the first, movies set in the ‘80s that wasn’t made in the ‘80s (including nods to the Rubik’s cube and Michael Jackson’s Thriller jacket), “The Wedding Singer” is about a wedding singer (how’s that for a title hitting the nail on the head?) who gets left at the altar and finds friendship and ultimately love with a waitress (Drew Barrymore). Uncharacteristically, “The Wedding Singer” is a delightful and heartfelt romantic comedy with a real spark between Sandler and Barrymore (which they would reignite in “50 First Dates” and are scheduled to do again next summer in “Blended”). One of the better critically-received films of Sandler’s career, the film showed Sandler’s range as a leading man from depressed to hopeful to oh-so-angry with some actual, not meant to be funny singing thrown in. (Offscreen, Barrymore would compare Sandler’s musical ability to that of Bruce Springsteen.) Even so, Sandler fans won’t be disappointed as the film features some frat-level humor (meatballs are involved) and a now-characteristic roster of fun cameos/small roles -- Billy Idol, Jon Lovitz, Steve Buscemi, Alexis Arquette… Although we’re hesitant when it comes to the romantic comedy genre in general, especially with Sandler involved, “The Wedding Singer” manages to hit all the right notes with laughs, tears and the urge to sing along, from an anger-filled “Love Stinks” to Jon Lovitz’s cringeworthy “Ladies’ Night” to Billy Idol taking part in one of the best romantic gestures on film. We dare you not to smile at “Grow Old With You.” Fun trivia note, the script included some uncredited work from Sandler, Carrie Fisher and Judd Apatow. Also, you can’t really argue with a soundtrack that includes Billy Idol, David Bowie, Elvis Costello, The B-52s and Flock of Seagulls. [A-]
“Happy Gilmore” (1996)
Having named his production company Happy Madison, an amalgamation of “Billy Madison” and “Happy Gilmore” it’s clear Adam Sandler has a lot of affection for his first two films (others came before it, but these two crystallized his movie career as leading man comedian). And it’s easy to understand why: for years, the two pictures were well-regarded as his best two films. However, like “Billy Madison,” this comedy about an inept, would-be hockey player turned pro golfer hasn’t aged that well. Nonetheless, as dated as it is, it’s still pretty funny and relative to the rest of Sandler’s often dire output, one of his best. Happy Gilmore can’t skate for shit, but his life’s dream is to be a hockey player. The one talent he seems to posses is a ruthless slapshot. An old golf pro (Carl Weathers) tries to convince Gilmore to enter a local national-qualifying tournament, but none of it means anything to the rejected hockey player until his beloved grandmother’s house is seized for evading taxes. With prize money the only salve available to save granny’s house, Gilmore goes into the contests head-on, but soon runs into an arch-nemesis, Shooter McGavin (Christopher McDonald), an arrogant golfer hellbent on winning his first national championship. “Happy Gilmore” has all the gags you’d expect, but it also has an absurdist bent that contains many you’d have never dreamed of moments, including a balls-out fist fight with “The Price Is Right” host Bob Barker. Some of the stranger elements of the movie include appearances by SCTV’s Joe Flaherty, Ben Stiller as a cruel orderly in an old folks home, James Bond villain Jaws (Richard Kiel), some ludicrous daydreaming flashbacks (cue hilariously gross references to KISS), and the most shamefully gratuitous product placement of all time (Subway). “Happy Gilmore” is also notable as the film that introduced Dennis Dugan into the Sandler fold. The actor/director is a veritable workhorse for the Happy Madison stable, having directed nine Adam Sandler movies, plus the Happy Madison production “The Benchwarmers.” No other filmmaker has directed as many Sandler movies and aside from Happy Madison mainstays Frank Coraci and Peter Segal, Dugan is Sandler’s go-to-guy, especially of late (aside from the R-rated “That’s My Boy,” he’s directed every Sandler-starring Happy Madison film since 2007). [B]
“Billy Madison” (1995)
Recently, this writer (Erik McClanahan) fell into a long, impromptu discussion about Adam Sandler’s movies with several old friends, and nearly all of them talked serious shit about his (for all intents and purposes) leading man debut. It hasn’t aged well, they said. Boy, is it stupid, they added. We all agreed, it’s not very good, but god damn we loved it when it came out. Then, as if struck by some triumphant musical score swelling on the soundtrack (One of us almost started singing: “Veronica, I thank you, for beating the shit out of me!”), we couldn’t stop reciting all the many, many still hilarious moments from “Billy Madison”: the aforementioned rendition of “More Gum”; pretty much anything said by Norm MacDonald and Mark Beltzman as Billy’s constantly drunk friends (“They just drift through life like lumps of crap!” -“What the hell is she talking about?”); the old man and the case of the burning brown bag of dog poo; Billy’s maid Juanita (“He’s a nice piece ‘a ass too”); Steve Buscemi saving the day; Billy using The Puppy Who Lost His Way to answer a question about reflections of society in literature and its brutal, brilliant refutation by the moderator; and all those bizzaro flourishes like the penguin and the clown bleeding from his mouth, to name only a few. It’s in those weird touches in this and other early vehicles that Sandler was able to capture at least some of the tone of his best work -- his extremely vulgar comedy albums -- and put them to use in a PG-13 movie ready for mass consumption. The great lament we have for Sandler’s career is that he’s been seemingly too gun-shy to bring that level of vulgarity to most of his movies. A lot of great comedy is lost in shackling the goofy-speaking, violent man child with a watered down aesthetic. It’s also pretty insane to think about how, as he gets older, his budgets have risen to insane levels, yet they’ve never looked any better or more expensive onscreen than Billy Madison, which was made for only $10 million. Despite all that, it’s impossible to deny, for the right generation, that “Billy Madison” is a ‘90s comedy touchstone, finding that sweet spot between incredibly stupid and really, really funny. [B+]
And The Rest...
There are a few other Adam Sandler movies that are worth mentioning, although not in great detail -- there was an early ensemble comedy "Airheads," about heavy metal headbangers that become half-assed hostage takers (it's become something of a cult classic, hopelessly dated but beloved just the same); "Bedtime Stories," Sandler's one and only foray into glitzy Disney family fare (complete with whiz-bang visual effects and a supporting performance by Russell Brand); and a pair of animated features -- the traditionally animated "Eight Crazy Nights," which was based in part on a song lyric in his popular "Hanukkah Song," which originated during his tenure at "Saturday Night Live" (it's thin and crudely animated, but hey, at least it's a Hanukkah movie) and "Hotel Transylvania," last year's smash film, a computer animated marvel where Sandler played a neurotic version of Dracula (his accent is beyond questionable).
Where is "Punch Drunk Love" you ask? On the final page we look at five Adam Sandler films that aren't Happy Madison films and in some cases don't even remotely resemble an "Adam Sandler movie."