great ideas

The Story Behind the Grown Ups 3 Script That’s Taken Over Comedy Twitter

Make this happen, Hollywood. Photo: Columbia Pictures

When most people went on the internet Monday, they weren’t expecting to care about another Grown Ups movie. People have been largely dismissive of the Grown Ups franchise, even right now when Adam Sandler is arguably being embraced by journalists in a way he’s never experienced. But in comes Tom Scharpling, host of The Best Show and writer-producer on comedy nerd–approved shows like What We Do in the Shadows and Nathan for You, and his script for Grown Ups 3. To be clear, no one — NO ONE — asked him to write this, most of all not Sandler. He had an idea for a new installment in the Adam Sandler Hanging Out With His Friends franchise that he loved so much, he just had to write it. The result is like no Sandler movie, while also being very much like all of them. See, while the script has two giant unprecedented twists (spoiler alert) — the movie is about the making of Grown Ups 3 with the stars actually playing themselves, and a masked killer is methodically murdering them — it is still an Adam Sandler movie.

Scharpling, an unexpectedly passionate Sandler fan, aspired to be faithful to the Sandman’s tone and style. Though he pokes fun at Sandler and his friends’ public images, the script is loving. And it really works! As a person who has watched every Sandler movie, I can see Scharpling’s Grown Ups 3 working seamlessly into the canon, exploring themes that Sandler has long been interested in. And people freaking loved it, with Adam McKay saying it “would be on my top five list for the year” and Peyton Reed saying he wants to direct it.

Scharpling told me the idea in passing three years ago, though like most people he probably told it to, I never thought he’d actually go through with it. Once I saw he did, I read it and quickly realized I needed to interview him. On Wednesday afternoon, two days after it dropped and dominated Comedy Twitter, we spoke. Check out the script here or at GrownUps3Script.com, and read our conversation below.

What is your history as an Adam Sandler movie watcher?
I must’ve seen Happy Gilmore 30 times in the theater. I loved Happy Gilmore so much, and I just really loved that he carved out this voice that was played to all of his strengths. I always loved that he wrote the movies and was so hands-on and really just shepherded these concepts all the way down the line and made sure they’re his. It’s funny because a lot of people, they’ll go do a good movie and then they’ll do a bad movie, and then if they go do their own personal thing, that’s like “the special thing,” and that’s the one that’s all their heart is in. But he kind of has a strange relationship where he goes and he makes his own movies, and they vary in quality, but then when he steps out of his bubble and his kind of system or infrastructure, he just has the best people begging to work with him.

When most actors or directors do the “one for me, one for you” game, the “one for me” is something art-house-y and small, but for Sandler the ones for him are these giant populous comedies. I think a lot of people don’t know how much of him is in his movies.
Yeah, absolutely. Look, there’s obviously bad movies in there. I’m not going to defend certain ones, but he’s made more great movies by being the writer and star and the producer than 99 percent of people who are considered heroes in show business. He has this track record that is indisputable. Jack and Jill gets hammered by everyone — Jack and Jill has some of the funniest stuff! I mean, the Al Pacino stuff I’ve talked about since the movie came out. Al Pacino gives this performance; it’s no less committed than he would be for Godfather II.

He just makes these things, and they’re fun and sometimes they’re dumb, and sometimes they’re tone-deaf, but … I don’t know, the proof is in the body of work with him. And all I can say is that I have yet to meet the person that would turn down getting paid a lot of money to go make a movie in a fun location with their friends. I don’t know where exactly the downside to that is in terms of just quality of life. So the low grade sometimes, whatever — what are you going to do?

So how did this idea go from a funny idea you might tweet to something you actually decided to write?
Well, it was an idea I had years ago, and it was one of those ideas that you joke around with a couple friends and it’s like, “Oh, wouldn’t it be funny if that existed? Can you imagine?” But then you never get off the runway with it, and it just ends up being a joke and it’s like, “Someday I’m going to do that.” And then there was a day where I was like, “You know what? I’m actually gonna do that. I don’t know if it’s going to be ten pages long, I don’t know if it’s going to be 130 pages long. I just need to just say I did this and I know the idea works.” I had thought through so much of it, so I just wrote it in three days. I started off Friday. It was finished on a Sunday night and showed it to people on Monday morning. You know what? That’s two days. I did it Friday night to Sunday.

Why did you think it was a good idea, and why do you think it was a good idea for Adam?
I thought it was a good idea because it was just like a genre switch. If this existed, I would be standing outside the theater in line begging for a ticket to see this. There’s such a familiarity with him and everybody feels like they know him, but I don’t know who actually knows him outside of people who actually know him. He’s probably our most successful mystery because he just doesn’t talk. He just doesn’t tell people stuff. He doesn’t have some compulsion to show his playbook to anybody who would look. He keeps it a mystery, and I think it’s been to his benefit.

And also, the idea of just trying to kill off like half the Grown Ups is too awesome, and trying to give everyone a different death scene. So the idea hung around in my head and I finally did it. I was just like, “This is literally the most fun I’ve ever had writing.”

I wanted to talk about the tone of it, because I think a lot of people probably went into reading it assuming it was going to be making fun of Sandler and these movies. But I think the thing that I love most is you captured how sweet and heavyhearted he is and how important his friends are to him. Even though you wrote this for fun, what did you want the movie to get across?
It’s funny — I was hoping it would keep being surprising all the way through, and it would just keep shifting the goals of the thing to where it suddenly becomes like … It’s a Grown Ups movie that becomes a behind-the-scenes movie that becomes a slasher film that becomes this kind of meditation on aging and the inevitability of irrelevance that happens to everyone. If you just stay around, then you lose at some point. Nobody ever beats show business, show business beats everybody. It doesn’t matter how great you are. At some point your number comes up, and that’s kind of what it’s about in a way. That’s how it felt. That’s what I was kind of channeling into.

It’s turned into this strange kind of Rorschach test, where people who like those movies are just like, “I read it and it’s clear how much it’s like, yeah, you poke fun at it and you’d know the thing, but it’s clear how much love you ultimately have for him and for the movies.” And then people who hate him are just like, “Man, I read that and it’s clear how much you hate him. It’s clear you eviscerated him.” And then other people are like, “I read it and it’s incredibly sad and moving.” It’s kind of all of those things at once, but people’s biases are definitely revealed when when they read it because they just show what their baggage is with this guy and the career he’s had.

Was there a character or part that was most fun to write?
David Spade jokes were so much fun because his voice is so distinct and is so funny and so singular. And that’s one of the things that people are like, “Oh man, you nailed his voice. You got his voice down.” A writer on his show was just like, “Holy shit, you wrote for him really well.” The whole thing is about the line between comedy and tragedy, also. They’re an inch apart, and the idea of giving Kevin James this kind of Miller’s Crossing–type death scene where he’s going through all the stages, bargaining and anger, and just the pride that he can buy his way out of this … It’s like, yeah, I would want to see him do a real death scene. That’d be amazing. Who wouldn’t want to see that?

The card on the gift basket the killer sends ends with “and never forget your art is your life and your life is your art.” As a person who has a public persona in which you’re playing a version of yourself, is this something you related to?
Well, I think when you get to a good place with it, then that should start to become truer and truer. As you get better at what you do, the line that divides your art from your life should get more and more narrow to where they almost are just a smear. I mean, when I get to do stuff on the radio or whatever, when there’s no demarcation lines, the better the stuff gets and the more it means to people.

And to pull off the career that Sandler’s pulled off is like … I mean, he really is one of the best people ever in show business in terms of the success. He’s just so smart to know when to change gears. For that guy to know that it’s like, All right, it’s time for me to do a stand-up thing. Nobody thought that’s what he would do next, but he knew it and he did it and people are like, Oh my God, it’s the best — because it is. And for him to be at this point where he’s getting into Uncut Gems, it’s like, Oh man, he just took it to the next level somehow — like he still had another thing he didn’t show us yet.

Do you know who the masked man is? Is it a specific person? If not, what sort of person are they? What is motivating them?
It’s just the inevitability of failure and irrelevance. That’s why at the end of the thing, Seth Rogen is getting ready to do Neighbors 3. It’s like his number will come up soon, too. Time catches up with everyone. That’s all it’s about.

I imagine through people you know and just people in comedy who read it, the script will at least get in front of all the guys. What do you hope they think of it?
I would hope that they would realize that it’s just kind of giving them the business in a fun way that isn’t truly mean-spirited and is having fun with their public personas and the characters they play and the characters they played in Grown Ups, and how close they were to who they are. This is not meant to be some evisceration of them — at least I didn’t mean it to be. Maybe it is and I didn’t mean it to be, I don’t know. But it was not by design. It was meant to just be funny and to create something I would love to see.

You’ve, maybe jokingly, said it’s the best thing you’ve ever done. Why are you so proud of it?
Because the thing it’s actually about is just something so heavy and not funny and so profoundly sad: that time claims all of us. No matter what we do or how successful we are, time catches up to all of us. And the idea that this guy, the suffering that he would feel going through this with his friends, would just turn into more commerce again. And that, in a way, he died also. When his friends died, he died.

I’d say the ending, which is really beautiful and sad, is maybe the part that feels least like an Adam Sandler movie, because usually his movies have sad parts but they do not end sad.
Well, you should check out Uncut Gems.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

The Story Behind That Wild Grown Ups 3 Script