There’s a good and bad to Netflix. It grants creators license to do some wild shit for very niche audiences. But most Netflix movies suffer a made-for-television feel that costs a film’s vitality. Somewhere in the middle, there’s Adam Sandler, benefiting from both.
Or that’s what I assume, anyway. I haven’t seen many of these Netflix films, but I’m going to spend this week checking them out to see if a license to do whatever he wants has helped him create any new secret classics stupid fans like me can use to defend him when the need arises. I’m not including his standup special 100% FRESH because its superiority is not to be argued.
Today’s Entry: SANDY WEXLER
Directed By Steve Brill (LITTLE NICKY, MR. DEEDS)
Adam Sandler did help write this one
SANDY WEXLER is a strange film. Sort of a modern update on BROADWAY DANNY ROSE, the film acts as a character study of a person who never quite achieves balance between lovable loser and broad cartoon character. It’s ultimately an affectionate film about a guy everyone barely tolerates.
We are supposed to like Sandy, but the film muddles that by making him the butt of its jokes, starting with his portrayal. He has a big heart, but he’s so abrasive. Sandler gives him a strange voice, makes him a gross eater, and has him lie constantly. This dishonesty is a manifestation of his endless optimism and care for others’ feelings, so it’s a positive thing and works as the catalyst for jokes. But it also keeps him distant as a source of affection.
The specific oddities of Wexler’s character come from the fact that he’s based on Sandler’s real manager, Sandy Wernick. He looks and sounds like this:
And here is Adam Sandler talking about him with Conan O’Brien who also has Sandy as a manager and appears in the film:
Every celebrity in the film, and there are a ton, roasts him out of affection, but this is still a movie character who must serve a movie narrative, and it doesn’t all quite work. On the other hand, this is Sandler Netflix business so doing weird stuff like this is the whole point. When you go through Sandler’s filmography, SANDY WEXLER is far too idiosyncratic to sit with the rest of his benign or lazy movies. It’s one of the elevated entries, even if it isn’t as successful as you’d want.
Everyman Sandler, Sad Sandler, or Wild Sandler?
Wild Sandler because he’s doing a voice. Not just a voice but a whole body language. There’s a bit of THE WATERBOY’s Bobby Boucher in Sandy. Both characters follow the arc of being lovable losers who ultimately triumph after getting perpetually dumped on, which puts them in Sad Sandler territory a bit as well. But by the rules I have written for myself, a voice means Wild Sandler and that’s that.
Sandler Regulars Present
Limiting this to regulars who don’t play themselves: Kevin James, Terry Crews, Rob Schneider, Nick Swarsdon, Colin Quinn, Allen Covert, and I may have missed a few. David Spade and Chris Rock show up, but they are playing themselves.
The framing device makes this a cameo machine. I don’t want to list everyone, but my favorites were Aaron Neville and Quincy Jones.
Would It Make It To Theaters?
Absolutely not. Were it a masterpiece, this would be the platonic ideal of Adam Sander doing whatever he wants for Netflix. It’s too long, plays almost like an inside joke, and creates a narrative around a romance between Jennifer Hudson and a sexless elderly man in a middle-aged body. Its target audience, beyond people who will watch anything Sandler makes, is wildly minimal.
Is it funny, or does it just sound funny?
SANDY WEXLER has jokes, but it works best when it’s not trying to be funny. Some of the roasting is pretty good. Most of the ‘90s period jokes are not. Perhaps its greatest comedy achievement is having funny ventriloquist bits, which excluding Albert Brooks, I’ve didn’t know was possible.
Most of the humor, however, adds to the film’s tonal inconsistency. Ninety percent of the jokes throw Sandy under the bus, to the extent that we’re convinced he really is a shitty manager. At one point, he straight up destroys a raccoon with a baseball bat. Sandler’s best humor arrives when he dips into absurdity, but playing with universal rules like that doesn’t serve this particular character study very well.
Is it too goddamn long?
Good grief. At 130 minutes, SANDY WEXLER is too goddamn long. I would have watched it the day it came out, but that running time always chased me away. There’s no real reason for this, either. It’s indulgent but not really for the sake of comedy or because every scene is precious. It just goes on and on.
Bad Sandler, Good Sandler, or Great Sandler?
I want this to be Great Sandler, because it’s so weird and heartfelt, but it’s simply not up there with the greats. It’s Good Sandler. At the end of the day, I wish he would do more films like this, and it does make me thankful for the Netflix situation, even if the movie left me a bit cold. And I do like SANDY WEXLER more than so many bad Adam Sandler movies. I just don’t love it.