SANDY WEXLER Review
Director: Steven Brill
Genre: Comedy, Autobiography
Adam Sandler possesses an unparalleled level of power in Hollywood. As an actor with his own very profitable production company and a cadre of celebrity friends who are always more than happy to collaborate with him, Sandler has never wanted for anything as a creative. While the ruling class of directors a la Christopher Nolan and James Cameron can only enjoy their freedom behind the camera, Sandler is unique in that he commands authority on the stage as well. He can cast himself as anyone he could ever want to be, do anything he fancies, and compel his disciples to carry out any project that he can imagine. He is the god of a world conjured forth from his own dreams.
A large contributing factor to Sandler’s deification is that his dreams aren’t that big. Sandler may be a god, but he is no risk-taker. The limbo champ of lowbrow, Sandler has built Happy Madison from the ground up by exclusively undertaking projects that appeal to America’s most infantile, yet universal, sensibilities. Freed from the moral compass that drives even the most tasteless of his rivals, Sandler has evolved past his own ego, driven entirely by his id. This metamorphosis from man to myth has cemented the Sand Man as an immovable pillar of the movie world, but it has also left him disconnected from the desires of the common flock. As seen in recent Sandstorms like PIXELS, THE RIDICULOUS 6, and THE DO-OVER, Sandler has completely renounced his funny man persona. Though he has always demonstrated an underlying contempt for humanity from the inception of his career, it has only been in the past three years that the facade has crumbled.
Okay, maybe the signs were always there
Something snapped inside Sandler after the critical and commercial failure of MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN, the rare Sandler film that was neither a comedy nor in any way under his control. It wasn’t the first time Sandler tried establishing himself as a respectable thespian, but it was the most surefire shot at achieving such renown; Jason Reitman was a decorated filmmaker, as were many of Sandler’s costars. Yet MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN did tank, and with it, Sandler’s dreams. The film was Sandler’s Golgotha, and Reitman his Pilate. Condemned to the scorn of the pretentious masses he once mocked himself, Sandler’s misanthropic break from reality was complete. He could not find the awe and respect he craved in this world, so he made it in his own; the Sandlers of these later films didn’t even bother trying to make the audience laugh, but instead sought to assert their own masculinity. As a series of debonair alpha males (an image easily achieved when starring opposite David Spade), Sandler masturbatorily portrayed himself as how he desired the world to see him.
That was three (Madison) films ago, and now it is time the Sand Man was resurrected, that shadow form cast back into the void of delusion from whence it came. Enter SANDY WEXLER, the true image Sandler sees whenever he gazes into the mirror of his soul. WEXLER is at once a return to form for the Sandler brand, as well as its antithesis. Yes, Wexler himself is a bona fide ‘character’ in the tradition of Zohan Dvir, Bobby Boucher, or Happy Gilmore, but this classic formula yields results more reminiscent of Sandler himself than any earlier incarnation. Wexler is tacitly accepted by the boorish Hollywood elite, and his penis is big. These aspects fly in the face of the established norms of a Sandler role, not only by breaking tropes, but also in that they reflect Sandler’s heart of hearts. Sandler has entered the fifth stage of the Kubler-Ross model, accepting himself for himself.
The death of grief
SANDY WEXLER is explicitly a lampoon of Sandler’s own manager, Sandy Wernick, but the trajectory of sad sack talent agent Wexler’s arc is a clear allegory for Sandler’s own career. We open in 1994, around the same time that the Sand Castle’s foundations were being built with the likes of AIRHEADS and BILLY MADISON. He builds up his seedy reputation by charting the professional lives of Kevin James and Nick Swardson, only to gain a shot at big time legitimacy when he represents Courtney (Jennifer Hudson), the newest “it” girl on the the block. Wexler hears wedding bells at “hello,” which soon comes into conflict with what is best for Courtney’s career. As Wexler’s infatuation with the idol grows, the attention he gives his other clients wanes, causing him to reevaluate who he truly cares about. SANDY WEXLER expects a massive suspense of disbelief from its audience in that it assumes becoming entwined with Sandler in any way could possibly be a bad career move. For a majority of the runtime, the movie itself adopts the insecurities of mid-2010s Sandler, more concerned with face than family.
What Sandler finally realizes, both in the film as Wexler and outside it as himself, is that face only matters to family. Wexler thinks the quickest way to Courtney’s heart is to kiss up to Arsenio Hall, a personal enemy but a valuable asset for promoting Courtney’s album, when what really endears him to her is his selfless devotion to Swardson and James. Analogously, ensemble pieces helmed by Jason Reitman and dramatic roles alongside Don Cheadle weren’t responsible for Sandler’s current icon status, and neither was Jennifer Hudson; it was his own, real-life friendships that he cultivated with the Sand Band over decades of collaboration that put him on the map. Only when Wexler finally accepts that Courtney has grown too big for his brand and rededicates himself to those whom he shares unconditional love with does he truly become happy. SANDY WEXLER is just as self-affirming as THE RIDICULOUS 6 or THE DO-OVER, but in a way that is honest and uplifting. Sandler is done deceiving himself, and as a result, he is done deceiving us.
It wouldn’t be accurate to say that SANDY WEXLER is a return to roots for Adam Sandler. To be fair, it has all the superficial marks of an early Happy Madison picture: the outlandish characters and comparatively grounded scenario more closely resemble the first half of Sandler’s filmography rather than the latter, but the ballooned runtime is a decided result of Sandler’s involvement in Judd Apatow’s FUNNY PEOPLE. Perhaps it’s his collaboration with Paul Thomas Anderson—one of the few Sandler cohorts who does not make an appearance in the film, a suspicious vacancy that becomes doubly intriguing when one realizes that Maya Rudolph is absent as well—that inspired this intense self-reflexivity. After all, this is a level of self-deprecation the likes of which we haven’t seen since PUNCH DRUNK LOVE. But what is unique to WEXLER is its earnest desire to be a wholesome experience for everyone, a far cry from any prior epoch of Sandler’s career. It’s a similar style, but a completely different substance, and I’m as happy to witness it as the Sand Man must be to live it.