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Post-Postmodernism in Adam Sandler’s Filmography

By: Sam Poulos

The continued success of Adam Sandler movies through the 21st century is the single greatest mystery of the anthropocene. At first, Sandler’s movies were pretty much what you’d expect from someone with his background--solid throw away comedies, some of which, such as Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, and The Waterboy, becoming DVD shelf classics. But Sandler’s movies got worse and worse for decades, and he became more and more tired of playing himself. But for some reason the demand for more Sandler movies was there, so they kept making sequels to Grown Ups and Hotel Transylvania. Why was there demand for Adam Sandler’s movies? Who knows. Public education has been going down hill for a while though.

So what do you do, when you are Adam Sandler in this moment, after a career of terrible movies takes you to the top of stardom? Sandler now faces an entertainment industry version of survivors guilt. Sandler saw other contemporaries of his, such as Eddie Murphy, David Spade, and Chris Farley, fade off into obscurity or die as he continued to exist as the most popular comedic actor in Hollywood, for seemingly no reason. The world seems chaotic and pointless. For both the postmodernist and Adam Sandler the idea of “meaning” has long passed in the rear view mirror, even as existence marches on. Sandler’s Netflix Comedy special, 100% Fresh, sees the comedian try to come to terms with the absurdity of his reality, and produce something positive from it.

Where the special fails is in trying to appear genuine through subversion of certain norms of comedy specials. Sandler wears casual clothes, frequently turns his back to the audience, and performs on sparsely filled stages without any sort of backdrop or lighting. But these attempts to make the special feel more intimate fall flat, partly because the special is not filmed in one location, but is composed of several different recordings. The role and importance of the audience is decreased by the transition from one to the next interchangeably. Where the special succeeds is when Sandler drifts from one persona to the next freely, unmoored by any standards. Sandler no longer needs to really try in his performance, and so where he does put his effort is in some ways more personal than entertaining. This effect is exemplified in Sandler’s tribute to the late Chris Farley.

On an empty stage, Sandler fumbles through a couple chords and a shaky solo on the electric guitar in his best impression of Bob Dylan/Bruce Springsteen, as video clips of him and Farley roll on the jumbotron behind his head. By praising Farley, Sandler definitely perpetuates the grand narrative of his own past, and in some ways he tries to embody Farley on stage as some sort of 27-club member come back from the grave. It’s jarring to see Adam Sandler playing such a different role than we’re used to seeing him play. While embedded within the performance is the chaos of a world that could make Sandler a superstar, the primary sentiment is reassuring. Sandler knows there’s no reason people should be listening to him sing, and it doesn’t matter what he sings because they’ll pay to hear it. Sandler finds freedom in this system, and sings about what so he sings about what matters most.

Photo Credits to DepositPhotos

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