Last week the Internet’s movie and pop culture neighborhoods were abuzz with a particular film critic’s existential meltdown over PIXELS (d. Chris Columbus, starring Adam Sandler, from Sony/Columbia Pictures). The aforementioned critic’s takedown of the movie got a lot of traffic and an almost equal amount of amens. I’m linking here but I warn you – it’s NSFW, NSFGrandparentsWithHeartConditions, NSFKidsWhoHaven’tDoneAStintInJuvie, and may be a trigger for rage-a-holics and movie bloggers who live in their mother’s basement.
I saw PIXELS on its opening day with my wife and 12-year-old son. I will grant for the record that the plot holes are huge and laughable. We laughed anyway. There’s not a single honest or honestly wrought emotion in the whole film. We get it. This ain’t REDS. In other words, PIXELS is no different from BILLY MADISON and HAPPY GILMORE. The jokes are the same. The holes in logic are the same. The Big Dumb Happy Endings are the same. The only difference between those Adam Sandler movies and this Adam Sandler movie is that today Adam Sandler is a well fed, 50 year old, multimillionaire Company Man and back then he was a hungry, 30 year old, up-and-coming Disruptor.
Sandler is doing the same thing he’s done for most of the last 20 years. His shtick hasn’t changed. He used to be young, subversive and on the vanguard of a fresh style of humor. Now his brand is safe for families and passé for a chunk of the public that lapped it up in the mid-90s, grew up and moved on. Times change, tastes change. Some performers and fans stick together, some don’t. Hey, 15,000 people filled Verizon Arena the other night to see the Eagles – much to the chagrin of Eagles haters who felt compelled to take to social media to question the taste of Eagles fans.
In Sandler’s case, I suspect he’s a guy who likes to work, likes to work with his friends and likes to deliver to his fan base what they expect and want. These days he only has to work when he wants to and only has to work with people he wants to. But to dismiss Sandler’s work and career because he’s figured out a way to do what he wants says more about us than it does about him. He’s taken some risks (REIGN OVER ME). He’s done some remarkable work (PUNCH DRUNK LOVE, SPANGLISH, FUNNY PEOPLE). FUNNY PEOPLE in particular explored the complexities of the real human being behind a one-dimensional movie star. That film was written and directed by Adam Sandler’s good friend and former roommate, Judd Apatow. FUNNY PEOPLE is not making a joke about Sandler’s career as much as it’s saying, look, there’s a human in there. (Read more about Apatow, Sandler and FUNNY PEOPLE in Apatow’s book, “Sick in the Head”)
I also suspect Sandler’s a smart guy who knows his fan base will shrink over the years. If he’s lucky, he and his fan base will fade out at roughly the same time. I don’t expect that PIXELS’ soft-opening means that Sandler is out of the dumb movie business and I don’t expect it means that studios won’t release more dumb movies. Not to worry, we will survive.
Last week I walked up to a ticket booth and bought tickets to see three movies in my local cinema: PIXELS, TCM’s Screening of DOUBLE INDEMNITY, and MR HOLMES. PIXELS did not inhibit my ability to enjoy the other two films, which are feasts for the eyes, ears, mind and heart – for me, anyway. I am neither threatened nor offended by PIXELS’ existence. You and MovieBob don’t have to be either.