I suspect that, deep down, we all like Adam Sandler. Which is why we also kind of hate him.
We certainly don't like all of his movies -- especially his recent ones -- but he seems like a nice enough guy. He's pleasant company on the talk show circuit and, by all accounts, is a good husband and father. Yet a lot of people will express honest-to-goodness vitriol toward Adam Sandler. I think they're really angry at what Sandler has become.
Adam Sandler, who will be 47 this year, has been a part of the cultural zeitgeist for more than 20 years. There are human beings who will legally drink alcohol for the first time this year who never knew what it was like to live in a world without Adam Sandler. Like it or not, he's a cultural touchstone.
Sandler's career arc plays out like a long television series in which the lead character flirts with becoming a better person but, ultimately, never changes. There's an episode of The Sopranos from its fifth season titled "Long Term Parking" in which Christopher Moltisanti seriously contemplates flipping after his fiancé, Adriana La Cerva, informs him that she's been supplying information to the FBI. Christopher changes his mind after witnessing some poor schlub packing his family into a beat-up compact car. Thinking that he's witnessing his own future -- the look on Christopher Moltisanti's face screams, "Fuck that!" -- he instead betrays Adriana to live out his days being rich and hanging out with his friends. Christopher Moltisanti chose the easy path. Adam Sandler is Christopher Moltisanti.
If Sandler's life were a television series, we would hate the main character and would have most likely given up watching by now. And, judging the dismal box-office returns for Sandler's last few movies (Jack and Jill and That's My Boy), perhaps that's what is happening.
People now forget that Lorne Michaels actually fired Adam Sandler from Saturday Night Live. After the 94-95 season, Michaels wanted to clean house and start fresh, which is how the Sandler-Farley era ended and the Will Ferrell era began. Think about the touching sendoffs that recent SNL cast members like Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader and Fred Armisen have received. Adam Sandler and Chris Farley received pink slips. Sandler's initial rise to box-office prominence with Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore is, in reality, a nice comeback story.
Sandler stuck with the formula that worked for the first few years of his career. Some efforts worked -- The Wedding Singer was harmless enough -- and some, like Little Nicky, didn't.
Sandler's core fan base felt betrayed when he starred in Paul Thomas Anderson's excellent Punch Drunk Love. But, again, using the television show analogy, it was so, so interesting to watch Sandler actually challenge himself. Unfortunately, Punch Drunk Love failed at the box office. (If Punch Drunk Love had been a commercial success, I am fairly confident Grown Ups 2 would not exist.)
Sandler tried again with James L. Brooks' Spanglish. It, too, was a box-office failure. Sandler tried one more time with an underrated performance as a man coping with losing his family on 9/11 in Reign Over Me. Again, it did little at the box office.
It was around this point that I can picture Adam Sandler at the gas station, looking over at the poor schlep in a compact car. Sandler imagines hitting the film festival circuit, receiving positive reviews from critics along the way, but making little money. Then his mind drifts to hanging out with his buddies. David Spade is there. Chris Rock and Kevin James are there, too. They are all dancing around in a Jacuzzi full of money. The cameras are rolling; this is actually a movie. People are going to pay money to watch these four dance around in a Jacuzzi full of money.
Sandler then glances back over at the schlub at the gas station. "Fuck that," he thinks.
The final straw was Judd Apatow's Funny People. On the surface, Funny People is a serviceable movie about a comic named George Simmons (played by Sandler) who stars in a lot of terrible movies -- with titles like Astro-Not and My Best Friend is a Robot -- and has to reassess his life after being diagnosed with a serious illness. Just below the surface was the idea that Sandler himself was reflecting on his own career. That maybe Sandler realized that he had more to offer the world than fart jokes and his own special type of gibberish. It was Don Draper realizing he needed to change. To the audience, this is a pleasing realization. Of course, Don Draper never changes. Don Draper is an antihero.
Adam Sandler is an antihero.
The truth is, Sandler isn't reflective -- at least not publicly. (Sandler swore off print interviews, which tend to be more introspective than their video cousins, many, many years ago.) We wanted Sandler to be George Simmons. In Funny People, the film ends with the sense that Simmons is going to get serious again about his work. In reality, Sandler delivered a pie to the face of anyone who ever gave a shit about his career with Grown Ups, Just Go With It, Jack and Jill, That's My Boy and now Grown Ups 2.
People are not mad at Sandler for making bad movies. People are mad at Sandler for regressing.
I still like Adam Sandler. And, against my better judgment, I still hold out hope that he will see an interesting third act to his career. I'm still following his arc -- and I certainly don't want to see Sandler's career die on the side of the road, snuffed out with a well-timed nose pinch. Even I openly root for Sandler's movies to fail, though, in hopes that, maybe one day, he'll decide it's worth his time to do something more interesting. But, like Christopher Moltisanti, I'm not holding my breath.
Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.