Sandy Wexler (2017)
Dir.: Steve Brill
There comes a time when one must make a concerted effort to expand their capabilities beyond their previous extremes and grow, either as an individual, an artist, a lover, human, etc. “Adapt or die” has been used by business moguls to describe such a time, especially in the wake of new technologies and innovations in the business landscape. When it comes to film, the same holds true. Even the best directors have adapted to a standard digital format, and acting styles and scores have similarly evolved over the last few decades to better describe the times that the films are crafted in. Despite these advancements and adaptations, there is one figure who refuses to adapt, who refuses to take a risk and evolve. Adam Sandler strikes yet again upon the cinematic landscape with another profane, unfunny, disgusting, vulgar and above all, blasphemous film crafted with conscious disregard for cinematic integrity: Sandy Wexler. This is nothing new for Sandler, as he’s made over a dozen stinkers in the past decade, but his continuous lack of care for crafting quality narratives or even funny punchlines remains as contemptuous now as it did for his efforts of yesteryear. Even though some Sandler diehards may find some joy in the fact that Adam Sandler adopts another funny high-pitched character voice, harkening back to his days of Happy Gilmore, Billy Madison, and Little Nicky, the film fails to provide Wexler with a captivating arc, and he simply remains an annoyance for over a two hour runtime that feels like at least five hours. Sandy Wexler is a steaming heap of manure, and it’s even a step down from last year’s The Do-Over (which landed at #6 on my list of 2016's worst films).
Wexler's main gimmick lies in a two-hour long impression that Sandler performs of his real-life former manager, Sandy Wernick. This might be endearing if Sandler and company formed a compelling arc for the character, but Wexler ends up in mostly the same place he begins the story in. This film serves yet another course in the Sandler buffet of lowest common denominator filmmaking, as he and his director, Steve Brill, never seem to believe their audiences can comprehend anything happening on screen without annoying, condescending spoon-feeding. Because it must have been deemed either too difficult or costing too much effort to form a coherent narrative around Wexler’s zany antics, most of the "story" focuses on Jennifer Hudson’s character, a singer who finds fame in the 1990s while being managed predominantly by Wexler. There are some scenes with gratuitous celebrity cameos that help to contextualize or explain Wexler’s thoughts and actions, because again, Sandler believes the audience too dumb to figure out his basic, cookie-cutter motivations. The movie feels like an exercise in throwing money at the screen, making a funny voice, and seeing what sticks, with well-written jokes being thrown to the wayside in favor of one-take, half-cocked improv that never lands. It’s a shame to think Sandler’s brilliance in his SNL years, as well as his few dramatic successes, came from this same individual.
Obviously, the performances are nothing to shake a stick at. Sandler’s impression of Wernick becomes old after the first fifteen minutes, and by the first hour, I found myself wishing that Wexler would die and the remainder of the film was a static, silent black screen. There are some good attempts at character portrayals from Terry Crews and (of all people) Kevin James, but the writing is simply not good enough for either of them to shine. Jennifer Hudson’s character remains the narrative focal point throughout most of the film’s runtime, as she undergoes the transformation of achieving fame from small beginnings, rather than existing as Sandy does: always on the cusp of a breakthrough but never quite reaching it. In theory, Sandy’s consistence state of disappointing existence would make a decent premise for a comedy, but the execution simply never lives up to whatever potential it could have even wished for. Wexler’s idioms and repeated jokes grate on the viewer, feeling like sandpaper on a chalkboard, with a nail file on top. The performances simply don’t provide humor or any kind of emotional grounding, as the whole film feels insincere from the get-go.
And, of course, the film’s technical prowess leaves much to be desired. Netflix seems willing to lend their original content providers plenty of a budget to craft the kinds of films that have the potential to rival Hollywood productions, but Happy Madison Productions has no desire to utilize this budget in any significant fashion. The cinematography is bland and the score is generic. There’s a repeated visual gag with a CGI flying creature, be it a bird or a bat, hitting Nick Swardson’s character, that contributes nothing to the plot or the character development. Each time something hit him, I kept thinking, “did this film really need a budget for scenes like this?” Sandy Wexler is full of unnecessary moments like this, as nearly the entire film is comprised of cinematic exposition, with no flavor or texture provided from its technical standpoint. Steve Brill simply serves as a conduit to channel Sandler’s unflinching, uncaring, greedy will upon moviegoers, for he earns a paycheck just the same as everyone else involved for a minimum amount of effort. It’s appropriate that the film’s technical merits reflect this refusal to even try. If nothing else can be said about Sandy Wexler, its sheer incompetence is consistent across all of its characteristics and filmmaking components.
When Sandler’s films were released into theaters, they often had medium to high grosses despite their low quality, and this success has been replicated onto Netflix, with a recent statistic showing that users have watched nearly half a billion hours of his Netflix Original films altogether.* Whether users realize that they’re being duped or not, Sandler’s business thrives on this platform, and for all intents and purposes, he and his crew have proven time and time again that they desire returns on their investments, even if their investments are pieces of cinematic garbage such as this. For all of Sandler’s brilliance as a film businessman, this is juxtaposed with the disdain that he inflicts upon the practice of cinema as an art form that can transcend boundaries, and make audiences feel the beauty that might not be possible to showcase in other mediums. There is no inkling, no hint of any kind of cinematic purpose in Sandy Wexler, other than for Sandler to relay an annoying impression of a former colleague for a couple hours, and make easy money doing it. If Gordon Gekko was right, and greed is good, then the products of this specific form of greed must be the paradigm shift that shifts the scales toward evil. Sandler does not respect his audience, so why should audience respect his films? It’s a two-way street that Sandler, Brill, and Happy Madison must acknowledge eventually, lest they perish. Adapt or die.