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Just how did Adam Sandler's 'Grown Ups' become a hit?

June 29, 2010 |  4:51 pm

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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Comments () | Archives (18)

The comments to this entry are closed.

How about the fact that the studio marketed the movie relentlessly throughout the NBA playoffs? That may have guaranteed a decent opening. You can't say it "bucked the trend" unless it has a decent second weekend.

Maybe the answer isn't that difficult - the country is gradually dumbing down and the fact that Adam Sandler's worst movies somehow all end up becoming hits is evidence of this. Idiocracy, anyone?


Someone actually wrote this silly backhanded review.

I'm amazed that this sort of pointless navel-gazing of the 'how did this happen' variety when a 'lowbrow' sort of movie eeks out a modest cash flow.

Just how did Adam Sandler's 'Grown Ups' become a hit?

Simple answer - the film was made for idiots, and there's millions and millions of them in America.

Maybe the reason you don't understand how this movie is a hit is the same reason you have been losing readers for years. You're out of touch with common people and what they like. What an elitist condescending article.

Have to agree with the earlier post that movies like this become hits because people want to take their kids to a movie that won't suck the innocence away from them.

The following is a true story.

My wife and I like animation. We saw the ads for the first Ice Age movie and wanted to see it. We realized that it was a kid movie and we thus took our niece and nephew (ages 5 and 3) to the movie with us. No where in the ads did it show anything but happy fun little cartoon animals. We thought we would be safe.

5 minutes into the movie, the mother gets chased by wild animals and drowns in a river. The theater, packed full of preschoolers there to see happy fun little cartoon animals instantly erupted into cries of "where's the mommy?" and just plain crying. My nephew buried his face in my side. My niece was crying in my wife's lap. At the end of the movie when the animals bring the little boy back to his dad, we got the same thing over again.

You jerks in Hollywood must think its great to bring little kids to a theater and scare the crap out of them.

Why Hollywood would make such a film, and why the idiot, junket-addicted movie critics would fail to point this out in their seemingly endless number of reviews would be MUCH better topics for this author to contemplate.

Movies like this may not be great, in fact they may (and with Sandler, usually do) suck rocks, but they deliver a predictable level of naughtiness along with the mix of kid and adult humor. If I can afford one movie for the family, this is likely the kind that will get picked.

Why its a hit? There are more people like me than there are like you and we buy more movie tickets.

Because dumbed down entertainment is popular. Look at all the reality shows and game shows that are popular. Low brow entertainment for the masses.

Brahahahhaha people in LA calling other people idiots. Look in the mirror you morons. Your state is bankrupt your city is bankrupt because you have millions of freeloading illegal aliens. Hey call the rest of us what you want. Just stay in the Marxist state of California and leave the the rest of us Non Idiots alone.

You must have insanely high standards if you see Iron Man 2 as a disappointment. 73% on the Tomatometer and $307 million at the box office says otherwise.

I agree I don't see why Iron Man 2 would be considered a dissapointment like the A-Team or Sex and the City 2.

It's not just a question of who's out of touch. There are legtimiately great movies that boast great writing, casting and direction that are massive hits. Unfortunately, they're all animated.

I don't know how to explain the success of "Grown Ups" as much as I can the success of "Wild Hogs" or "Couples Retreat," both of which disappointed me immensely but rang the B.O. bell to millions. It could be the name recognition that draws in the audience, but the problem with these movies is that even with the popular casts, they don't really know how to make them funny. It's just assumed that these are funny people and that there's your movie. These aren't Christopher Guest ensemble pieces, though, and there's hardly any plot to support the shenanigans (unlike even something like "I Love You, Man").

I do thrill to the occasional bawdy comedy that does make me laugh no matter the faults, like "The Hangover" or "Hot Tub Time Machine." At least in those films, you could sense tried and tested comedic actors like Zach Galifianakis and Craig Robinson really trying to use the material to their advantage. With the aforementioned three hits, however, I don't feel that the performers try that hard. They feel too safe and easy, undemanding and unrewarding.

And that's why I'm approaching "Dinner with Schmucks" with some degree of, as what the AV Club would call, "cautious optimism."

Iron man 2 was a dissapointment?The movie has made $307 million dollars thus far in a summer movie season thats seen bomb after bomb(except for toy story 3).Yea,it didnt make avatar money but it definatly made some major money at the box office.

Hollywood is the epitome of low brow.

Simple answer? Salma Hayek.

Maybe this movie did so well because of the insane cast of comedic greats that are in it. Lets remeber something, 4 out of the 5 stars are from arguably the greatest SNL cast ever assembled. A cast that consisted of Sandler, Myers, Farley, Spade, Schneider, Hartman, Rock, Carvey, etc. I mean to take 4 of them and mix in "The King of Queens", is just a good time. With talent like that all in one movie you don't even need a script. Just turn the camera on and see what happens.

Why is this a movie for idiots? It's called slapstick comedy and it's been around forever. Who cares if it's stupid, the point is to make the movie gowers laugh and get away from the problems of their daily lives if only for a couple hours. Plus it does relate to the generation of people in their 30's-40's, before all of this tech crap took over, it was normal for kids to go outside and play a pick up game of football or basketball rather than sit on the couch and play video game, watch TV or even spend more time on the net.

I am a huge Sandler fan and I could never understand for the life of me why anyone hates this guy and his movies. He's the one actor that stays out of trouble, seems like a good guy and really looks like he enjoys what he does. Not to mention he's a pretty solid actor.

I kind of feel sorry for you people. I mean you all sound like a bunch of miserable, high and mighty's that have no idea what lifes big picture is and this is all coming from me reading all of your reviews about a summer comedy.

You guys SUCK!

You would have to be hysterically crazy NOT
to see this movie.
Sandler is gorgeous,
spade is adorable,
James is cuddly,
schneider is a Cute puppy,
rock is mr smiley.
And all in one movie????
Wow ! AND a waterpark
and a lake in the summer.
We 're on autopilot to see this.

Ahhh. Great.

I'm sorta tired of hearing "Ahh, there was NO INTRICACY within the plot..." or "Where is the gripping irony?" or "Kaufman blows away this writing."

It's a lowbrow comedy. Don't go in and rip it to shreds because of the lack of artistry... Many people are fine with seeing some jokes (some for more than a second time now, even) and laughing and relaxing. Don't be surprised.

Screw critiquing a hilarious movie. I liked it. Plenty of other "idiots" did too.

Get over yourselves. I'm an idiot for purchasing a movie ticket for a movie like Grown Ups? Well you're a stuck up bigot for saying so.

hey jay


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