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Put on your magic sunglasses: 10 moments of cynical sincerity in Adam Sandler comedies

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1. A Yankee Stadium reunion, Anger Management (2003)
Adam Sandler comedies could never be accused of emotional understatement; the payoffs arrive in big courtroom speeches, apocalyptic rainstorms, or in front of enough people to burst into applause at the end of them. To that end, Anger Management concludes on one of the biggest stages in all of sports: Yankee Stadium. Having driven himself to madness in an anger-management course taught by Jack Nicholson, whose unconventional methods include wooing away girlfriend Marisa Tomei, Sandler makes one final appeal through an unguarded microphone behind home plate. Security drags him away, but Rudy Giuliani, still glowing with post-9/11 righteousness, demands, “Let this man finish what he came here to say.” What follows is a heartfelt proposal, a kiss on the Jumbotron, the obligatory applause from the Yankee faithful, and a bit of self-analysis so deflatingly cheesy that it’s incredible it took an entire movie to get there. “I have the guts to stand up for what I believe in,” Sandler says. “And I believe in us.”


2. A visit from Social Services, Big Daddy (1999)
In an effort to impress girlfriend Kristy Swanson, who thinks (with some justification) that he’s a layabout with no sense of responsibility, Sandler’s Big Daddy protagonist adopts a 5-year-old boy to show off his maturity. His radical parenting philosophy: Let the kid do whatever he wants. Not surprisingly, when the nice gentleman from Social Services pays a visit and finds the boy smelly, disheveled, and gambling with Sandler’s unsavory buddies, it’s off to the orphanage. Cue a tearful scene where the wide-eyed child, who has a slight speech impediment, makes various entreaties to Sandler, from uncomprehending questions (“You don’t want me here anymore?”) to bargaining (“I won’t play the kangaroo song!”) to simple desperation. (“Please don’t make me go!”) And there stands poor Sandler, thunderstruck, as the syrupy music does most of the emoting for him.


3. Custody hearing, Big Daddy (1999)
Early in Big Daddy, Sandler gives his would-be adopted son a pair of “magic sunglasses” that would make him invisible and ease his anxieties a bit. The magic sunglasses come into play during a custody hearing where the boy takes the witness stand, tells the court where he’s from (“To-wan-to”), and supports the case for him staying with Sandler. One of things his new daddy taught him: “Styx was one of the greatest American rock bands and they only caught a bad rap because most critics are cynical assholes.” (Maybe, but not as cynical as you, Sandler.) Later, the scene climaxes with a seriocomic cross-examination pitting Sandler against his litigator father, which raises and resolves 30 years’ worth of mutual animosity in five minutes. (It’s like East Of Eden, except not really.) “I would die for this kid so he wouldn’t have to feel one ounce of sadness,” Sandler says on the witness stand. “Your honor, my son deserves this kid,” says the ball-busting father. Music swells, the courtroom explodes in applause, and presumably a nation’s cheeks are dabbed with tissue.

4. Meeting grown-up son, Click (2006)
For Sandler’s cranky Click architect, having a remote control that can alter reality is a couch potato’s dream: He can freeze on boobs, mute the badgering of the ridiculously hot wife (Kate Beckinsale) who’s way too good for him, and fast-forward through all the lame, boring stuff. But what if life is all lame, boring stuff? Sandler reaches this conclusion late in the film, having mashed so insistently on the fast-forward button that he skipped over the excruciating-yet-precious moments when his kids grew up. He barely recognizes his grown-up son on a visit to his fancy architect office—because, you see, his son is making the same mistakes he did—and he mistakes his daughter for the young man’s sexy wife. And as befitting the film’s Christmas Carol themes, Sandler sees the future and is overcome with regret—for missing his kids growing older, for not being around when his father died, for allowing some other schlub to assume his role as husband and father. It’s enough to prompt Sandler’s patented deer-in-the-headlights sad look, with lip-quiver.


5. The last time he spent with father, Click (2006)
Having just been informed that his father (Henry Winkler) died and he missed it, Sandler uses his magical remote control to return to their last moment together. And there’s the Fonz, plastered in old-age makeup, bounding into Sandler’s office and beckoning his busy son to put his work aside and spend some time with his old man. But Sandler was too distracted and irritable that day to go out, and he crushes his father’s spirits by explaining that he knows the secret to the “quarter trick” Winkler has wowed him with since childhood. Before leaving, Winkler dejectedly says “I love you, son.” In the present, Sandler pauses and rewinds that line over and over again, sobbing and sobbing.

6. “Family comes first,” Click (2006) 
Though littered with some comedy to dilute the schmaltz, the last third of Click offers such an outpouring of emotion that the film winds up defying Golden Globes-style classification. Is it a wacky fantasy about a dude who can control his life like he controls his TV on Sunday afternoons? Or is it the heartbreaking tale of a man who fast-forwarded through life without cherishing those precious, precious loved ones who were annoying the shit of him in the first place? The later scenes tilt the film decidedly in the latter direction, reaching an almost-operatic crescendo when Sandler, now aging and feeble, wrests himself out of his deathbed to chase down his son, who has just explained that he’s postponing his honeymoon to land an important client at work. Removed from life support, stumbling out into a driving rainstorm, Sandler offers these Charles Foster Kane-like last words: “Family… family… family… family comes first.” (He’s also sorry. And he still has the cocktail napkin from his first date with his wife. And so on.)


7. A homemade card for Winona, Mr. Deeds (2002)
Frank Capra by way of The Hudsucker Proxy—by way of Sandler’s usual mix of aggressive physical comedy, half-hearted wisecracks, and heart-tugging sentimentality—Mr. Deeds casts Sandler as a small-town pizza-slinger who lucks into a massive inheritance that makes him rich and brings him to the big city. Winona Ryder plays undercover reporter who snuggles up to him in order to get a scoop, but regrets her deceitfulness when she discovers he’s a good guy and she likes him. Just as Ryder tries to extricate herself from the situation, Sandler presents her with a homemade card: On the front is a drawing of the chicken parmesan she had on their first date, and inside is a poem that affirms his good-hearted-simpleton image: “Hard to breathe / feels like floating / so full of love / my heart’s exploding.”


8. Disappointing the kids, Bedtime Stories (2008)
As Uncle Skeeter in Bedtime Stories, Sandler is down on his luck. The small family hotel his father bequeathed him has been blown up into a large resort by an evil conglomerate—and adding insult to injury, he works there as the handyman. Uncle Skeeter isn’t a very good uncle, either, but he redeems himself by taking care of his pint-sized niece and nephew and telling them magical stories that come alive and have an impact on his actual life. This serves to his advantage until his out-of-control storytelling winds up marking the kids’ school for demolition to make way for a new hotel. His new girlfriend, a teacher (Keri Russell), is furious, but the children really lay it on thick. “Uncle Skeeter,” the mush-mouthed boy asks, “Do you want to inciner-tate our school like we inciner-tated you in our story?” Then the girl, with a single tear streaming down her cheek, adds, “I thought you were supposed to be the good guy.” As the camera pulls away, nobody looks more disappointed in Uncle Skeeter than Uncle Skeeter.


9. Courtroom scene, I Now Pronounce You Chuck And Larry (2007)
When you have to submit your comedy to an anti-defamation group for the seal of approval before the rest of the world sees it, you’re walking on thin ice. In order to slip I Now Pronounce You Chuck And Larry, a lowbrow comedy about firemen (Sandler and Kevin James) who enter into a civil union for benefits purposes, past the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (and past more sensitive viewers), the filmmakers had to show some penance. So for every 10 gay-panic jokes, Chuck And Larry features a moment where Sandler or James has to tell the audience that “faggot” is a bad word. Or that they aren’t gay, but it’s cool if other people are. Or that AIDS research is a good place for your charity dollar. The messaging comes to a head in a one-quarter-wacky/three-quarters-earnest courtroom scene where Dan Aykroyd, as the station chief, pulls a Bonfire Of The Vanities and starts directly speechifying about tolerance so nobody misses the point. (And so the stars don’t have to smooch.)


10. Finding heaven on the GPS, Grown Ups (2010)
Usually, the heart-tugging moments arrive late in Adam Sandler movies—often in a heap via a courtroom sequence—but when Sandler’s beloved old basketball coach dies early in Grown Ups, occasioning a reunion with his buddies, the mawkishness gets a head start. Already established as a negligent father, too caught up in his work (à la Click) as a high-powered Hollywood type to appreciate his family, Sandler hears a crash on his front lawn. Turns out his daughter, too small even to reach the pedals, has driven his luxury car into a tree. When asked why she would do such a thing, the girl informs her dad that she was trying to find heaven on the GPS. Awwww?