Blu-ray Review: Blended

One of the interesting things that’s happened to Adam Sandler as an actor is that the older he gets his films have gotten better at telling smaller stories in the heart of a larger one. Lost amid the usual sort of shenanigans and cheap gags in his last couple of films has been some interesting character and story-telling that the bulk of Sandler’s films up until this point haven’t had. While he hasn’t been the box office draw he was in a decade ago, as the era of any comedian being able to hold court at the top of box office for any substantial period of time is over, the fact that Sandler is still able to get several films into theatres annually still counts for something.

It’s because at the heart of it he’s still able to turn a profit off his films, even though it’s a smaller one than it used to be. Blended may not have had a substantive box office but it still managed, like almost everything on Sandler’s resume, to turn a profit and bring in the family audience that’s been seeing his families for nearly two decades. And for all the cheap gags, and easy humor, Sandler’s been developing some interesting things in his usual low brand of comedy. He’s changing over the years, as he’s still a lowbrow comedian but not counting on all the same gags to continue to work. Blended supplies enough good that the wide swath of comedic misses winds up not mattering as much as it could.

Jim (Sandler) is a single father with three girls in the process of growing up. A widower, he runs a Dick’s Sporting Goods and is just getting back into the dating scene. Lauren (Drew Barrymore) is a single mother of two boys who divorced their father (Joel McHale) because of his fairly rampant infidelity. An awful blind date from the two sets up a series of random coincidental meetings between the two until they wind up with the same idea. Lauren’s friend (Wendi McLendon-Covey) has just split up from her current boyfriend and there’s a trip to Africa in a week that won’t be taken. Both Lauren and Jim have the same idea: get an African vacation on the cheap.

The problem is compounded when they both get the trip and wind up spending a week together on a “blended” family vacation special. Shenanigans ensue, of course, as we get to see two families who are wildly different experience Africa. Throw in Terry Crews as a sort of bizarre Greek Chorus and you’ve got the requisite recipe for the usual sort of Sandler film.

The interesting thing is that Sandler goes for plenty of cheap gags, as is his style, but the script has a lot more substance to it than it probably deserves. Jim and Lauren are two single parents who have been out of the dating pool for so long; their first date is a disaster but not unexpectedly so. There’s some tenderness in their conversation as they both discuss the difficulties in being both a parent and trying to be an adult. It doesn’t hurt that Sandler and Barrymore have exceptional chemistry, built from a handful of films over the years, but this is a script that’s coming from a place of knowledge. This isn’t cribbed from a website trying to pander; it’s coming from a place of genuine knowledge.

It resonates because the film doesn’t pretend that Sandler and Barrymore are young. The Wedding Singer, the first time the duo appeared onscreen together, was nearly 20 years ago. Sandler is nearing 50 and Barrymore 40; they aren’t young actors anymore and it’s nice to see a film acknowledge this. There’s an earnest awkwardness in the area of romance the film embraces that’s refreshing. Too often in Hollywood when you have older actors in a romantic comedy there is no real acknowledgement of this; it’s as if dating is exactly the same when you’re 25 as it is at 45.

The blind date at first tells you interesting things about the characters. Jim really doesn’t want to be there and does his best to try and avoid Lauren during conversation. He takes her to a Hooters and she obviously isn’t a fan of the establishment. Both are desperate to get out of the date to get back to their lives of being parents and they have a brief moment of connection discussing how awkward getting back into the dating scene is. There’s a genuine moment of earnestness in the opening half hour about it that is atypical for a Sandler film as a whole.

The film also does something interesting with its children; they’re reasonably screwed up (sometimes almost comically so) because they’re being raised by single parents but it comes from a logical place. Jim’s kids are in desperate need of a female presence as they are clones of Jim in a way. They all have problems stemming from the death of their mother and it’s from a place that’s understandable. Lauren’s sons are continually let down by their father and need a male influence.

If you took away the film’s comedy there’s a strong story here about two families whose deficiencies are probably best corrected by merging. There’s a great undercurrent about family in this fairly generic romantic comedy; there’s some real heart to this film that you wouldn’t expect from the guy who made his career off of films like Happy Gilmore and Billy Madison. As Sandler has aged as an actor he’s trying to interject bigger themes rather than going merely for exclusively cheap gags.

He even makes fun of Crews and the film’s African Chorus gimmick, which could wear itself out early but somehow manages to become one of the better repeating gags. Late in the film Sandler openly mocks it in a hilarious meta moment of sorts that also works in the context of the film itself. Sandler’s genuine exasperation works as both a character and as an actor; it’s an odd moment of hilarity that works on a lot of levels. Throw in a couple of nice stitchback jokes throughout the film and there’s enough to be entertained.

Blended isn’t a brilliant film, with a lot of comedy that misses, but it’s a pretty good one.

A handful of extras are available but most of them are just EPK pieces. The usual suspects (Deleted scenes, et al) are included as well.

Warner Home Video presents Blended . Directed by Frank Coraci. Written by Clare Sera, Ivan Menchell. Starring Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Shaquille O’Neal, Terry Crews, Dan Patrick, Joel McHale, Wendi McLendon-Covey. Running time: 117 minutes. Rated PG-13. Released: August 26, 2014.

Tags: , , , , , , ,