Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Sandy Wexler (2017) - Movie Review

The plot: In 1990’s Los Angeles, talent manager Sandy Wexler (Adam Sandler) is struggling to get his clients off the ground. However, his luck is set to change once he happens upon Courtney Clarke (Jennifer Hudson), an incredibly talented singer. He signs Courtney as one of his clients, and before too long, it seems like Sandy has found the talent that could take him to the top. But as her star rises, and others seek to get her for themselves, Sandy’s will to do what’s best for his clients is going to be tested.

Sandler’s doing the goofy voice again. It takes a long-ass time to get used to hearing, which weirdly justifies why this film goes over a two-hour running time, but honestly… I don’t hate it. It’s rather grating but Sandler plays the character like he actually gives a damn, and even the laughs don’t always land, the more dramatic moments do. Maybe it’s because he’s accompanied by Hudson for most of the film, whose soulful voice and warm delivery helps to balance things out. The Happy Madison regulars are here as well, from Kevin James as a surprisingly entertaining ventriloquist to Nick Swardson as an unlucky daredevil to Rob Schneider as an Israeli billionaire… I promise that this sounds more annoying than it actually is; their performances are a lot more grounded than their usual fare, similar to Sandler, and they work for the same reason.

Terry Crews makes for a welcome addition as Sandy’s wrestler client, and Arsenio Hall makes a rather inexplicable but still workable role as himself. And he’s not the only one doing so. Sandler must have tapped every single connection he has because the celebrity cameos here are staggering, both in size and their eventual impact. Big winner in that regard, though, goes to a certain comedic legend who is identified as Sandy’s first-ever client. Seeing an artist of his stature give some of the most poignant advice of the entire film, especially when it’s directed at someone played by Adam Sandler, is truly incredible to witness. No spoilers though because, believe it or not, this is worth seeing for one’s self.

The character of Sandy Wexler is based on Adam Sandler’s real-life manager Sandy Wernick. How much of Wernick’s actual personality is visible on-screen remains to be seen, given the Happy Madison formula for characterization, but that one fact gives this film something that Sandler’s filmography has been missing for several years: Evidence that he gives a damn. The character has a series of traits, from how he keeps changing his statements in reaction to what other people are saying to him to his unhinged amount of enthusiasm for his clients, but the film never feels like we’re meant to hate the guy. We’re supposed to be aware of his flaws, but also the heart behind them as well. As we see Sandy claw his way into show business, representing performers who exist on the outskirts of the industry, we see someone who wants to help people make it in that business. Managers and talent agents mean a lot to this brand of creatives, something that any stand-up comedian will tell you, and as trite as it is to write, it really is all about who you know. And Sandy wants to make sure that his clients know the right people.

Now, with all that said, don’t think that this is that massive of a departure for Sandler. We’re still dealing with the Happy Madison running-gags-into-the-ground style of comedy, and holy hell, can this film get irritating. Part of it is due to Sandler’s delivery taking time to get used to (and I definitely get that some people likely just won’t ever get used to it) but it’s also down to the actual jokes being said. We get a lot of winking-to-the-audience references of the time, creating knowing humour out of Sandy not getting the eventual relevance of things like emails and grunge music and Pixar, but it’s just too cute to really sink in. There’s also the regular helping of blatant product placement, which even with a story set in Los Angeles doesn’t really make things any less awkward.
It’s all just so annoying that it feels like the writers (one of whom is Sandler himself) are too stuck in the company standard to really take off. The more emotional moments involving Sandy and how badly he takes certain clients leaving his employ are well-handled, even if they tread on familiar territory, but the jokes rarely if ever land properly. Whatever jokes can be gotten out of Sandy’s mannerisms, you’ll likely get sick of them by the fifth or sixth time that they get reiterated. To say nothing of how much darker it gets during the third act, where we get to such delightful imagery as a clown hanging himself and the ventriloquist using a man in the middle of a heart attack as one of his puppets to get through a business meeting.

And yet, even with all that said, there’s something about this I can’t find much hate in my heart for. Maybe it’s because Sandler is finally getting it into his head that the usual loathsome jerks that he’s been playing for so long have outstayed their welcome, going for a character with actual likeability to him. Maybe it’s because the character being based on someone he knows well means that whatever self-aggrandizing that goes on feels more like loving tribute rather than the usual ego-stroking. Maybe it’s because it echoes The Disaster Artist in how it highlights artistic ineptitude, but also artistic vision and drive with the same pen.
Or maybe it’s because, between all of this, we have a story that is worth watching and, while a bit too long to maintain its full impact, feels like it has a point in its existence beyond its own sake. Over the last decade (and possibly even further back than that), Sandler has existed in this holding pattern where he’s either being in slapshod stories about heinous people or he’s making films just so that he can write off an overseas vacation as a business expense. With this, neither of those hold true and as someone who still has a lot of fondness for the man’s earlier filmography, I really, really hope that this isn’t a flash in the pan and that this side of Sandler is going to stick around for a bit. I mean, Happy Madison still has one more Netflix release in their contract; after this, I have at least some hope that it’ll turn out alright.

All in all, this film is going to get one of two reactions from most audiences: It’s either more of the same crap that Adam Sandler has been peddling for quite some time, or it’s a refreshing reprieve from that same crap. Me personally, I fall into the latter. While a lot of the jokes don’t make that good of an impact and Sandler’s performance has its growing pains, but between the rest of the frankly astounding cast and the feeling that Sandler is connecting back to his roots as a comedian, this at the very least feels like a good precursor for things to come. Hell, beyond what may come after, it is immensely satisfying to see this guy play a character that feels like an actual human being for a change, not just a walking plague of heinocity. Adam Sandler has rediscovered what empathy is; I think that’s cause enough for some congratulations.

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