Director: Frank Coraci.
Cast: Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Terry Crews, Joel McHale, Wendi McLendon-Covey.
Runtime: 117 minutes
Release Date: May 23rd
Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison production company has won the funnyman numerous nominations, accolades and awards in recent years. Unfortunately, most of these have been for the Razzies, celebrating the worst-rated Hollywood films each year, for lazy Sandler schtick like Jack and Jill, That’s My Boy and Grown Ups 2.
Blended, Sandler’s latest release, does not represent a tremendous departure from his established formula, but there is a degree of unexpected sweetness to it that elevates the film somewhat above his more recent productions. In their third collaboration since The Wedding Singer and 50 First Dates, Sandler and co-star Drew Barrymore play Jim and Lauren, who instantly hate each other when they meet on a disastrous blind date. Unbeknownst to each other, both wrangle a cheap holiday to South Africa to the same resort with their respective families: Lauren and her two hyperactive, hormonal boys, and Jim and his three tomboyish daughters. Thrown together at a resort for ‘blended’ families – think of a Brady Bunch-type set-up, second marriages, stepchildren, etc. – the antics of their children and the exciting, exotic setting help to bring Jim and Lauren, and their collective brood, closer together.
‘Blending’ is the key concept here, not only in terms of the two families, but also this film’s genre. Blended attempts to merge the messy, shouty silliness of a Sandler comedy, complete with ostrich racing, rhino sex, and a demon-voiced child, with more emotional, romantic themes of parenthood, second chances and familial responsibility. The relationships that develop between the ‘blended’ family feel natural, even when they play out in ridiculous ways, (see above ‘ostrich racing’) and Sandler and Barrymore perfectly capture the humour and poignancy of the situation.
The comedy side of things is hit-and-miss, which is especially noticeable when so many of the gags are repeated – Lauren’s teenage son’s sexual fantasies, Jim’s daughters being dressed/styled like boys, the hotel concierge calling Jim by increasingly ridiculous variants of his given name. Yet there is still a tendency for the more juvenile jokes to draw focus from more sincere moments of human connection, self-reflexively noted within the film when Jim shouts and scares Lauren after a touching lullaby scene: ‘I had to do that, the emotion was getting too much.’
The structure of the film is a little off, too – it takes slightly too long to get going, although once it does, there is precious little conflict presented, while the obstacles that do appear feel artificially contrived. Once the characters arrive in South Africa, it’s as if the writers gave the reigns over to the tourist board and just let everyone have a good time, meaning that even the predictable beats of a romantic comedy hit weaker than usual.
The chemistry between Sandler and Barrymore – and between Sandler, Barrymore, and their on-screen children – almost compensates for this lack of conflict, frequently giving a sharp, dynamic edge to what may otherwise be tired, battle-of-the-sexes banter or a clichéd excuse to force two characters together. The supporting cast turn it out as well: Wendi McLendon-Covey from Bridesmaids excels in a small role as Lauren’s business partner, and Joel McHale is perfectly cast as the self-absorbed deadbeat dad of Lauren’s boys. Finally, Terry Crews as the resort’s resident crooner steals the show with his dancing pecs and robot workout, leading a cheerful, muscular choir who pop up unexpectedly throughout the film to offer a chorus on how the new ‘blended’ family is getting on.
While a little confused in tone, Blended is funnier and more engaging than recent films of its ilk, carried quite some distance by the strength of its charming, irresistible leads. If this film was a drink, it would indeed be blended, never shaken or stirred, just a pleasant mash of ingredients that goes down easy.