Renoir Lite-Hearted

| 13 Aug 2014 | 05:40

    Grown Ups

    Directed by Dennis Dugan

    Runtime: 102 min.

    It’s inspiring to see Adam Sandler bounce back from last year’s[ Judd Apatow catastrophe ](/article-20144-stand-up-falls-flat.html)[Funny People](/article-20144-stand-up-falls-flat.html) with the cheerful and surprisingly heartfelt Grown Ups. Instead of inflating a self-congratulatory stand-up comic's convention, Grown Ups offers a reunion of 1970s junior high school basketball teammates (Sandler, Kevin James, David Spade, Rob Schneider, Chris Rock) and shows how they struggle to achieve maturity—even as adult males vacationing with wives and children. It’s as if Sandler realized what was so false and ineffective about Funny People: the coddling sarcasm, ethnic self-pampering and egotism presented as an enviable part of L.A. comics’ privileged lifestyles.

    This means that Sandler’s role as Hollywood producer Lenny Feder, who convenes his old buddies on the occasion of their coach’s funeral, renounces Apatow and recaps the personal and moral quandary of his rich role in James L. Brooks’ remarkable but widely misunderstood [Spanglish](/article-11198-what-about-spanglish.html)—the finest recent American movie to explore class and ethnic mobility. Grown Ups borrows a Mike Leigh title but doesn’t disgrace it. It’s not a high-concept film about good old boys’ arrested development; their women’s reactions significantly put the boys’ egotism in perspective. It’s altogether about the disappointments and self-deprecation that men who are intimate with each other might be reluctant to share yet cannot deny.

    Grown Ups’ multi-ethnic premise presents men who find themselves fixed in marriages with annoying in-laws (Rock), unruly children (James), demanding spouses (Sandler, Schneider) and desires that remain unsatisfied into middle-age (Spade). It recalls the rich humanism that was Paul Mazursky's specialty during the 1970s. Sandler now uses contemporary sarcasm to mock the juvenile pretenses of these indulgent males—a Mazursky-deep move whereas Apatow is just vulgar and sentimental.

    Sandler's reckless comedy pokes fun at his clique's immaturity. He doesn't pretend to create character studies; rather, he satirizes their common silliness as they revisit adolescent pranks and attitudes. One ploy of Sandler and Fred Wolf's screenplay is to democratize humor—spread affectionate derision all around—by repeating jokes that grow into an appreciation of our full humanity. Note the wet T-shirt ogling that goes from a nubile chick to a middle-aged hausfrau, or the sustained swimsuit-wedgie routine ("That was a man’s ass?"). These jokes prove that Sandler isn’t class-climbing or youth-pandering like Apatow but affectionately examines the fundamental insecurities of middle-age. His usual-suspects cast not only create characterizations, they almost give performances. James, Spade and Schneider aren’t smart-alecks and buffoons; they display chagrin and Chris Rock’s harried husband is more believable than his role in I Think I Love My Wife.

    It helps that the women are not played by comediennes but actresses with emotional affect: Salma Hayek as Sandler’s fashionista spouse, Maria Bello as James hyper-maternal mate; Maya Rudolph as Rock’s pregnant, good-natured mama’s girl and Joyce Van Patten confirms that martronliness can be charming. Director Dennis Dugan shows such actorly, egalitarian rapport that Grown Ups surpasses the recent French film The Father of My Children. Grown Ups has a natural, spontaneous sense of how friends of shared sensibility grow apart yet stay instinctively intact. The mocking personalities are never guileful; the insistence on friendship resembles Leigh’s insight and Renoir’s grace but crossed with stand-up comic candor. Sandler’s wardrobe of collegiate T-shirts humorously reveals the missed opportunities Feder never confesses: Grown Ups is nicely subtle about mid-life regret and lifelong promise. Unassuming as it is, Grown Ups' best moments suggest a humanist work of art.