Looking back: Is ‘The Wedding Singer’ Adam Sandler’s only good movie?
When you look at Adam’s Sandler career – much like when you peruse the Bible – you can see two very delineated segments: “before The Wedding Singer” & “after The Wedding Singer”. The beloved movie about the 80s-rrific romance between a wedding singer & a waitress is the one absolutely bright spot in Sandler’s filmography, and the competition isn’t even close.
Of course, quality has hardly ever correlated with popularity when it comes to Adam Sandler’s output. Ardent defenders of The Sandman’s career will point out his constant box office triumphs as proof of his worth as an actor. What his bankability truly reflects, however, is how successful he’s been at brainwashing America for decades. The Wedding Singer is the only instance where the fans’ devotion is truly deserved.
Adam Sandler’s beginnings read like rough, unpleasant sketches of the sweet spot he would eventually hit with The Wedding Singer. The Sandman’s six years on Saturday Night Live were full of the expected peaks & valleys most comedians endure on the show, but his early movies were the ones which would define the rest of his life.
Looking at flicks like Billy Madison & Happy Gilmore – and even smaller Sandler performances like in Airheads & Mixed Nuts – is an unpleasant experience in 2020. The juvenile humor that made The Sandman a comedic superstar in the 90s goes down like spoiled milk when experienced through modern eyes. Luckily for Sandler, many of us still watch those films with our nostalgia goggles on.
The sad truth is Adam Sandler’s sensibilities wouldn’t ever really change. Sandler vehicles are generally chock-full of gross-out gags, homophobic humor and an overwhelming reliance on over-the-top screeching-nails-on-a-chalkboard performances from most of the cast. A project like The Wedding Singer found ways to temper Sandler’s worst tendencies, but it stands out as a singularity.
The Wedding Singer marks that unique moment in Adam Sandler’s career when his comedic taste was balanced out & improved by his costar and by the story’s setting (the end result is usually the other way around). There’s something about the 80s that simply allows our brains to shut down, guilt-free. How many of us give the most ridiculous stuff a pass by reminding ourselves, “well, the eighties were insane”?
The bulk of the heavy-lifting, however, goes to Drew Barrymore, whose almost inexplicable chemistry with Sandler makes it easy to enjoy The Wedding Singer. Our subconscious goes: “If Drew loves him, he must be okay, right?” and the con is on. Suddenly we find Sandler’s singing endearing and his usual antics actually come across as funny.
Sandler himself deserves some credit for toning down his protagonist to a level that makes him believable as a person. The Wedding Singer’s Robbie Hart might be a little out there, but he still feels like a guy you could run into, especially between 1980 and 1989. Unfortunately, future attempts to tone himself down for the sake of critical recognition would simply make The Sandman boring.
The twenty-first century presented a different comedic landscape for Adam Sandler. As our taste evolved, he found himself caught between the desire to impress critics & the need to please audiences – a tall order for most entertainers. The Sandman’s filmography post-2000 is a weird back and forth between “prestige” films aiming to get awards and low-brow comedies aimed at recapturing the spirit of his early years.
Neither Sandler’s artsy efforts nor his increasingly dated crass comedies would ever come together the way The Wedding Singer did. The problem with having a personality as strong as Adam Sandler’s in “proper” movies like Punch-Drunk Love, Reign Over Me or Uncut Gems is you just can’t take the man seriously. Sandler’s presence comes with too much silly baggage and his dramatic turns feel like Oscar-grabs.
Not that Sandler’s other type of output isn’t cringe-worthy as well. Bottom-of-the-barrel comedies like Jack and Jill, That’s My Boy, or The Ridiculous Six can be read as The Sandman’s steadfast refusal to grow-up – a stubborn desire to stick with comedy routines about bodily fluids & gender-shaming. Could Adam Sandler give us another film like The Wedding Singer? It’s hard to tell when he’s not even trying.
Considering how well Adam Sandler seems to be doing in the entertainment business – critics’s opinions aside – it’s easy to understand why he doesn’t have any incentives to truly try to make a movie like The Wedding Singer again. Sandler has acknowledged in interviews that he knows his fans will take whatever lazy effort he releases in theaters or Netflix. You know what, more power to him for being candid.
Still, it’s difficult not to be saddened by such a waste of talent. Once The Wedding Singer showed us what Adam Sandler is capable of when the stars align, it’s impossible not to yearn for it to happen again. But even subsequent collaborations with Drew Barrymore have failed to recapture that spark, cementing the notion that The Wedding Singer might remain a unique high point in Sandler’s filmography.
There’s a reason why we were never treated to a Broadway musical based on Billy Madison’s adventures but we got one inspired by Robbie & Julia’s love story. The Wedding Singer is the only Adam Sandler endeavor that was considered Broadway worthy. How’s that for undeniable proof that it’s his only good movie?