With strong word of mouth and better reviews than any live-action mainstream Adam Sandler comedy since The Wedding Singer, the intentional throwback his days as an A-level theatrical movie star is set to be a holiday favorite.
Hubie Halloween is this weekend’s most popular movie over at Netflix and almost certainly the most-watched movie this weekend. The kid-friendly Halloween comedy, kind of a newfangled riff on Jim Varney’s Ernest P. Worrell movies, was initially viewed as Sandler’s delivery on a threat to make an intentionally terrible movie if he failed to win an Oscar for Uncut Gems. Not only is this not that movie (it was shot before the awards season), but it is one of Sandler’s most acclaimed live-action comedies ever. Its 50% “fresh” (5.2/10 average critic score) Rotten Tomatoes rating makes it Sandler’s best-reviewed live-action straight comedy since The Wedding Singer in 1998. That makes some sense as the flick is a willful ode to the underdog male escapist fantasy comedies, closer to The Waterboy than That’s My Boy, that made Sandler a mega-star in the first place.
The Wedding Singer turned Sandler from a well-liked comic actor to a multi-quadrant movie star. The willfully upbeat and “sweet” romantic comedy, co-staring Drew Barrymore, was one of the only movies to open during Titanic’s four-month reign of chart-topping terror and live to tell the tale. It opened over Valentine’s Day weekend with a $19 million Fri-Mon debut, legging out to $80.2 million domestic partially by offering lovesick Titanic fans a different, but no less sincere, romantic melodrama for date night. The film scored a 68% fresh and was looked at even then as a “surprisingly good” Sandler comedy. It would launch him onto the A-list, but it would be his last well-reviewed major studio live-action picture. If Wedding Singer ignited an era of 1980’s nostalgia, then Hubie Halloween is rooted in nostalgia for when Sandler was a top-tier movie star.
The film is a throwback to the late 1990’s/early 2000’s vehicles, think The Waterboy ($185 million on a $23 million budget), Big Daddy ($235 million/$34 million/1999) and Mr. Deeds ($171 million/$50 million/2002), which defined the mainstream Sandler comic vehicle. The films offered an underdog sentimentality and “Aren’t I a stinker?” innocence, along with a strong undercurrent of “snobs versus slobs” or “wide-eyed innocent triumphs over the know-it-all bullies” tropes. They had their share of PG-13 vulgarity and “boy humor” (they were textbook male-specific escapist fantasies), but the more popular ones had an overall decency and niceness (even if Happy Gilmore himself was a violent psychopath who happened to be our protagonist). Of note, they often climaxed with Sandler’s character “winning” by willfully surrendering the “MacGuffin” (the adopted kid, his dad’s company, a $40 billion inheritance, etc.) for the greater good.
In an era when a studio could make its fortune from star-driven originals and high-concept adaptations, Adam Sandler’s mainstream comic vehicles regularly bagged $31-$48 million opening weekends from 1998 (The Waterboy) to 2010 (Just Go With It) to become Sony’s biggest “franchise.” But even during this time, audiences weren’t always willing to indulge his straying from the formula. The fantastical and comparatively ambitious Little Nicky bombed in late 2000 ($58 million on an $85 million budget), while Paul Thomas Anderson’s acclaimed Punch Drunk Love (a dark rom-com which was as much a deconstruction of Sandler’s comic persona as The Cable Guy was for Jim Carrey) did about as well as a Paul Thomas Anderson flick was expected ($24.7 million worldwide) to do. As The Onion satirically but correctly put it at the time, fans were “disappointed” by his “intelligent, nuanced performance.”
Nor did the crowds show up for Judd Apatow’s deeply personal and sprawling comedic melodrama Funny People. The comparatively well-reviewed (69% in 2009) but divisive (compared to Knocked Up and The 40-Year-Old Virgin) flick about a comedian who gets a terminal diagnosis and tries to rekindle with a long-ago romantic interest (Leslie Mann), bombed with $71 million worldwide on a $75 million budget. It has been argued that the failure of this film, along with underwhelming receptions for the 9/11 drama Reign over Me in 2007 and Spanglish in 2004, essentially led Sandler to “give up” in terms of more challenging mainstream comic vehicles. That’s not unlike my own theory that the total rejection of Tyler Perry’s For Colored Girls (clearly intended to be his proverbial Schindler’s List) ten years ago led Perry to stop trying to become a better filmmaker, but I digress.
Sandler’s mid-2000s vehicles saw the actor going from the underdog to the guy who had already won at life. That’s not dissimilar to Steven Spielberg going from Jaws and E.T. to Minority Report and The Post, with blue-collar protagonists bucking the system to top-of-the-world protagonists who come into conflict while representing the system. That’s not a criticism, but it may explain why Catch Me If You Can sticks out in his post-Hook filmography. There’s a difference between Mr. Deeds, about an everyday “schlub” who becomes an instant billionaire and movies like Click, Grown Ups, Blended and even You Don’t Mess With the Zohan (with him playing an Israeli superspy) where Sandler’s protagonists are financially-secure adults who learn to appreciate their success and/or take their families on lavish vacations. Even his (surprisingly good) Hotel Transylvania toons feature him as successful hotel owner Count Dracula.
When Sandler tried to get his “edge” back in weird projects like Jack and Jill ($150 million on a $79 million budget in 2011) and the R-rated That’s My Boy (which positioned Sandler as Andy Samberg’s horrible father and earned just $58 million in 2012), audiences didn’t show up. Nor did they show up in the misguided nostalgia-chasing Blended (his third film with Drew Barrymore, which earned $128 million on a $40 million budget in 2014) or the inexplicably vulgar and gatekeep-y Pixels ($245 million/$88 million). Grown Ups 2 ($247 million/$80 million in 2013) didn’t help Sandler any more than Men In Black 3 “helped” Will Smith. Along with the general decline of the theatrical star-driven comedy, Sandler went from hungry underdog to the status-quo relishing adult. Like Eddie Murphy, we went from fire-cracker who creates comedy to the straight-man reacting to comedy in his midst.
Hubie Halloween absolutely is an old-school throwback to the “PG-13 but okay for kids,” mainstream, triumph of the underdog Adam Sandler movie. Heck, it even reteams him with Billy Madison co-star Julie Bowden. The film, about a town outcast who spends his days obsessively making sure that the townspeople stay out of trouble who then gets puts to the test when genuine peril strikes on Halloween night, is a “classic” Sandler character (goofy voice, man-child personality, awkward mannerisms, questionable intelligence, overriding decency, etc.). While some of these films involve Sandler’s protagonist realizing his own worth, this time it’s the townspeople who finally come to appreciate their overzealous protector. It feels like an affirmation of the cultural value of the conventional Sadler comic vehicle, with its ode to oppressive decency and goodness stinging sharper in 2020 than it might have in 2010.
Hubie Halloween is a knowing nostalgic throwback that’s earning better reviews than the genuine articles. To be fair, those who grew up relishing Happy Gilmore, The Waterboy and Big Daddy now represent the adult critical establishment. It’s also the same “safe for kids” attitude that helped Hotel Transylvania, with much of the outright vulgarity (and gender issues) kept at bay, into family-friendly blockbusters. Those toons are easily Sandler’s biggest hits, with $1.357 billion over three movies. Most of Sandler’s Netflix output has been about trying to be “edgy” (The Ridiculous 6) or mid-life struggles (Murder Mystery). Hubie Halloween is arguably Sandler’s first Netflix flick that positions itself as the kind of Sandler comic vehicle that made him a movie star. In terms of critical response combined with likely viewership totals, Hubie Halloween is Sandler’s biggest live-action success in an awfully long time.
Source: Forbes – Business