Director: Frank Coraci
Starring: Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore
To say that the new Adam Sandler movie is better than some of his other recent work isn’t saying much. After all, some natural disasters cause less damage than others. But none are a positive development.
Please understand the frustration: some of us are old enough to recall a time when Sandler-made movies were authentically funny and didn’t merely earn laughs by reminding people of their most puerile instincts.
From Sandler’s early, charming humour, we have travelled to a point where we’re trying to analyse whether his mocking of feminine hygiene products is better or worse than his jokes about a young boy’s sexual explorations.
But there's something else disappointing about Blended, which stars Sandler and Drew Barrymore (in their third collaboration) as single parents thrown together on an African family holiday. The fact is, there are actual sparks of sweetness, actual moments of tenderness, mostly thanks to Barrymore's sunny and grounded presence (one shudders to imagine this movie without her) and the relaxed chemistry between the stars.
But the moments don’t stay sweet. They’ll end with something like Sandler loudly urinating. Or two rhinos copulating. Sandler plays Jim, a widower with three daughters who works at a sporting-goods store. Barrymore is Lauren, divorced from her narcissistic husband and trying to juggle parenting two boys with running a wardrobe-organising service with her gal pal (Wendi McLendon-Covey. They first meet on a disastrous blind date. But, of course, they keep running into each other again. Eventually, and don’t ask how – the director Frank Coraci doesn’t lose sleep over plausibility – Jim and Lauren are both in South Africa and of course, there’s much to be learnt over the ensuing days, about parenting, friendship, romance, family and wildlife.
In case we didn’t absorb those lessons, we’re reminded of them by our singing – and bumping and grinding – musical narrator, Terry Crews. Not surprisingly, there is little attempt to depict real Africans. The most promising scenes involve the children, especially Jim’s daughters and their attempts to replace their late mother’s presence (although these can veer towards the maudlin). There’s a little blonde moppet called Lou, a middle daughter named Espn, after the network (OK, that’s funny) and a tomboy teenager named Larry, for Hilary (Jim clearly wants sons). We’re supposed to believe everyone thinks she’s a boy, but, really? She’s played by the glamorous Bella Thorne, disguised only by an unattractive haircut, but otherwise looking a lot like Keira Knightley. Still, when Lauren, who’s as happy to have daughters around as Jim is to have sons, gives Larry/Hilary a makeover, the scene unexpectedly warms the heart. And it reminds us that there’s a fairly decent movie trying to breathe here, under the infantile humour.