New Sandler comedy shows signs of improvement

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Adam Sandler movies are certainly not for everyone. His grating, unsophisticated style of humor may immediately turn moviegoers away from anything he does, but even those among us who would rather live a life without froyo than sit through a movie starring the man who brought us “Jack and Jill” may find something redeeming in his upcoming summer comedy, “Blended.”

Directed by Frank Coraci (“The Waterboy, “Click”), ”Blended” is the story of  two single parents, Jim (Sandler) and Lauren (Drew Barrymore), who end up on a terrible blind date at Hooters and are then unexpectedly forced together when they both take their kids on a luxury family vacation to South Africa. As their families become closer, so do the “50 First Dates” and “The Wedding Singer” duo.

Sandler tones down his trademark comedic style and becomes one in a large group of actors who create genuine moments of sweetness and humor in “Blended.” While it never strays far from the style of its low-brow predecessors, “Blended” surpasses expectations and succeeds as a feel-good film about family, adventure and getting a second chance at love.

In addition to its leads, “Blended” is packed full of familiar faces, from Sandler-movie veteran Kevin Nealon to scene-stealing Terry Crews to Joel McHale, who oozes sleaze as Lauren’s slimy ex-husband. Disney Channel star Bella Thorne (“Shake It Up!,” “Frenemies”) plays Jim’s boyish teenage daughter, Hillary. She starts the film as a tracksuit-wearing, bowlcut-sporting tomboy who is constantly teased about her androgynous looks and developing figure. After a bonding day of makeovers with Lauren, Hillary transforms into an ultra-feminine head turner, ending the mockery and winning the attention of Jake (Zak Henri), a cute boy on vacation with his father and young stepmother.

In an interview with The Daily Californian, Thorne spoke about how she hoped young audiences would respond to her character’s transition. “I hope they’ll say, ‘Yes! She finally got her way,’” Thorne mused. “She’s this teenage girl thats just dying to get out of her own skin and have her first crush at 15 know she’s a girl. That’s not that hard to ask for.”

The film’s unrealistic and potentially harmful depiction of gender relies on binary notions of what a young girl should look like. To 16-year-old Thorne, however, the barrage of mockery her character receives for lacking outwardly feminine traits is all just a misunderstanding.

“I think that she has a really bad haircut, and she wears tracksuits and I have a really low voice already, so I kind of sound like a man already,” Thorne explained. “They’re not trying to make fun of her—they think she is a boy. There’s no, ‘Oh, I’m gonna make fun of this girl because I think she looks like a boy.’ They legitimately think she is a boy. So when she turns into a girl, they know she’s a girl.”

Although the story arch of Thorne’s character may, perhaps unsurprisingly, lack sensitivity—the other characters “know” Hilary is a girl as soon as she puts on a dress, makeup and heels and gets hair extensions—the film’s portrayal of a blended family is refreshing in its optimism. Instead of treading down the well-worn path of tiresome pranks and “Family Feud” antics, Coraci paints a much more mature and inspiring portrait of two families coming together to provide each other with support and love. Herein lies the success of “Blended:” amidst all the crass jokes and mildly amusing gags, the picture takes the time to develop believable relationships between its characters, extending its “happy ending” to include not just the love interests but the important people in their lives as well. The quiet moments shared by Lauren and Jim’s youngest daughter, Lou (a cute-as-can-be Alyvia Alyn Lind), in particular provide enough tender sincerity to balance out the rest of the movie.

Although “Blended” may not be a comedic tour-de-force, it’s got enough charm and heart to force a smile on the faces of even the staunchest Sandler detractors.

 

Grace Lovio is the arts editor. Contact her at [email protected].