Funny People, Judd Apatow’s 2009 dramedy about funny people, opens with a home video Apatow shot in the early ’90s of his roommate Adam Sandler doing a silly voice while his comedian friends — Ben Stiller and Janeane Garofalo — die laughing around him. I absolutely love this clip, both for the overwhelming joy on young Sandler’s face and the sound of other comedy legends trying and failing to hold in their giggles. During the film’s press tour Apatow would talk about how Sandler had so much creative energy and no audience to share it with, so he’d use it to try to laugh with his pals. Soon Sandler would be cast on Saturday Night Live and then become one of the biggest comic actors in the business, but at the end of the day he still just wanted to make his friends crack up so hard that they’d fall over laughing together.
In this way, Sandy Wexler, the pretty good showbiz comedy Sandler released on Netflix this past weekend, is his masterpiece. Sandy Wexler is not just another movie where Adam Sandler gets to have fun with his creative friends; it’s a movie about getting to have fun with creative friends.
Sandy Wexler is essentially La La Land with a more true-to-L.A. love story, as an older man uses his position in the industry to slowly convince a naïve young woman to love him. It’s a movie about Hollywood dreams and the dreamers who dare to dream them, despite questionable (and comedic) levels of talent. But a better comparison might be that Sandy Wexler is Adam Sandler’s Broadway Danny Rose; the two films share a framing device in which a bunch of entertainers reminisce about a hilariously down-on-his-luck industry weirdo. The difference is Broadway Danny Rose had Woody Allen idealizing the bygone era of his youth, while Sandy Wexler is about the ’90s, the time in which Sandler was establishing himself as a comedy star. The film’s nostalgia isn’t abstract; it’s specific to Sandler and his life in comedy.
Watching Wexler, it’s easy to think Adam Sandler just threw a party and made Netflix pay for it. The film opens with a bunch of friends of Sandy’s (and Sandler’s in real life) — Lorne Michaels, Kevin Nealon, Henry Winkler, Conan O’Brien, Jon Lovitz, Janeane Garofalo (getting the first laugh in the movie, I might add) — at a black-tie affair, talking to the camera about Sandy. The film keeps coming back to this party, and more friends pop up. Chris Rock, Dana Carvey, and David Spade sit together, which is cute. The whole thing is cute. It is clear that Sandler and frequent directing partner Steven Brill just invited people he liked to come over for a day, with the promise that they’d only have to do about two minutes of work. Four years ago, when Grown Ups 2 came out, I wrote about Sandler and comedy of watching comedians just hanging out. With Wexler, Sandler has figured out a away to take this to the next logical step — this time, his friends don’t even have to act, they just had to show up and have a good time.
Of Sandler’s friends, the ones who aren’t talking heads at the party show up in the movie as Sandy’s clients. (Colin Quinn plays a comedian, Kevin James plays a ventriloquist, Nick Swardson plays a daredevil, Terry Crews plays a professional wrestler.) If you remove the love story, the plot is literally just Sandy going from one client to the next, telling them how great they are, while the actor gets to do something funny. The movie is literally about the question, “Is it possible to work with people and still be friends?” Its answer is a resounding yes.
I’m aware that I’m making the film sound like another lazily conceived and executed Sandler project that uses the same handful of actors for the umpteenth time, a cynical cash-grab that gives the actor’s fans the exact same thing they’ve unquestioningly lapped up before. But there’s another way of looking at it: After a string of box-office bombs, Sandler got a deal with Netflix to do whatever he wants. That is to say, the money is already guaranteed — as well as the money for the next five movies — and this is the movie he wanted to make and this is how he wanted to make it. A generous (maybe too generous) reading of Sandler is that he’s like a painter who just paints the same circle repeatedly until he perfects it, knowing he never will. Which is to say, for Sandler it is about the process.
And when you watch it, it’s hard to call the film cynical. Sandy Wexler is based on Sandler’s real-life longtime manager Sandy Wernick and Sandler’s love for the character is palpable. One of Sandler’s many lowbrow predilections is taste for schmaltz. His movies are filled with bighearted, broad emotion that can sneak up on you (as the amount I cried watching Blended proved). And Sandy Wexler is maybe his schmaltziest movie ever and, as a sap, I enjoyed every minute of it.
Well, not every minute. Sandy Wexler is a very, very long movie. Coming in at 131 minutes, it is the first Sandler movie — meaning the ones he starred in and produced — to top two hours. That’s a particularly staggering fact considering, as I mentioned, there isn’t much story to the movie. Sandler probably could’ve shaved off 20 minutes, cutting some of his friends’ jokes, but he clearly didn’t want to. Sandler just enjoyed watching them having fun too much. He always has.