Hollywood, as cheerleaders for "Toy Story 3" and other animated movies constantly note, is with increasing success making movies that are about kids but that contain adult themes and humor.
But it turns out that Hollywood is also pretty adroit at making movies that are about adults but that contain kid themes and humor.
Sony's Adam Sandler laugh riot "Grown Ups" should have been part of the Great Retread Recession of 2010. After all, nearly every new release of the last few months that has tried to recycle an old idea ("The A-Team," "Sex and the City 2" "Iron Man 2") has disappointed. And there's nothing that deserves the label of retread more than the reunion comedy of "Grown Ups" -- starring Sandler, Kevin James, David Spade, Rob Schneider and Chris Rock as 40-ish-year-old friends who get together to catch up on old times and make a few fat jokes -- which trots out Sandler's puerile comedy for yet another go-round.
Yet that Retread Recession rule hasn't applied to "Grown Ups." The low-brow subgenre to which the movie belongs was shown to be as vibrant as ever this weekend with a $41 million opening
-- good enough for the fifth-highest opening of the summer and the highest Sandler opening among his last seven pictures (and ahead of all-time Sandler hits such as "50 First Dates"
and "The Waterboy"
). The box-office total means about 5 million Americans bought tickets this weekend to see "Grown Ups" -- though to paraphrase Rock's old joke about Spice Girls album sales, I can't find a single person who'll admit it.
So, in a time when audiences are saying enough is enough to old ideas, how did this movie buck the trend?
We spoke with a few distribution experts and movie veterans, and they offered numerous theories. There's the one that Sandler is back in a comedy that's recognizably him (apparently, "Funny People"
reminded these filmgoers that they liked Sandler, but not enough for them to like the movie).
Or the theory that many of the men who went to see "Grown Ups" recognized some of themselves in it. These would be the thirty- and fortysometings who look back fondly, with no small amount of gross-out pleasure, on their adolescence, and at Sandler, the living embodiment of it. (These are, incidentally, the same men who propelled the gross-out nostalgia of "Hot Tub Time Machine" to a not terrible opening.) Bolstering this theory is Sony's data that nearly half the "Grown Ups" audience was over age 25.
"Grown Ups" is also a comedy in a summer that's been bereft of them -- there's no "Hangover" this season, and only one modest entry from the prolific Judd Apatow machine, "Get Him to the Greek." Some of the success may also be due to the film's marketing, which has hammered home the idea that if you come to see this movie, you are getting a boatload of likable stars for one ticket, as good a discount as there is in a time when moviegoers feel they've been throwing away their money.
But the most interesting explanation may lie with a surprising Sony number: More women saw the movie than men (about 52% to 48%, according to the studio). On its face, that one's a head-scratcher. You wouldn't think that women would see themselves in the male characters or, for that matter, in the characters of the one-dimensional wives and girlfriends.
But several of the characters in the film have young families, a point the campaign smartly hit on by showing children asking naive questions ("Daddy, what's wasted?"). Those are easy and broad jokes, but they're relatable -- and it just might have convinced women and mothers of young children that this was a movie worth seeing, or at least tolerating.
Summer 2010 isn't going to be remembered for many great movies. After "Grown Ups," it won't even be remembered for many middling ones. But in a time when very modest creative effort can lead to respectable box office results, Sandler proves, once again, that he is a man of the zeitgeist.
-- Steven Zeitchik
Photo: Sony Pictures
Find more middlebrow analysis of lowbrow pop-culture at http://twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT
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