Review: “Billy Madison”
Produced by: Robert Simonds
Written by: Adam Sandler, Tim Herlihy
Edited by: John Gilroy, Jeffrey Wolf
Cinematography by: Victor Hammer
Music by: Randy Edelman
Starring: Adam Sandler, Bradley Whitford, Bridgette Wilson, Josh Mostel, Darren McGavin, Norm Macdonald, Mark Beltzman, Larry Hankin, Theresa Merritt, Dina Platias, Chris Farley, Steve Buscemi
As a kid, I had several friends who were massive Adam Sandler fans. I liked him well enough, I guess, being a 90s kid who actually watched Saturday Night Live quite often for someone my age, but I never liked him nearly as much as I did Jim Carrey, who, in my grade school mind, was seen as some sort of rival to Sandler – the Nintendo to Sandler’s Sega. The movies I saw Sandler in were just nowhere near as funny as Carrey’s to me, and it’s a sentiment I still hold to this day. But with every passing comedy that he made, Adam Sandler grated on my nerves more and more, even if I hadn’t seen the films in question – the trailers were pretty much all I needed. The few films I actually did get around to watching only made me dislike him more by association. His most recent output pales in comparison to even Jim Carrey’s worst films. I’d much rather watch the dull Yes Man three times over a single second more from Grown Ups, Bedtime Stories, or, even worse, the horrendous Jack and Jill.
Throughout the years, however, I had always heard that Billy Madison was one of his better comedies. It seemed like fans, critics, and Sandler apologists alike were fairly united in declaring this movie about an adult slacker going back to grade school as being on par with the two Sandler films I had genuinely enjoyed from (The Wedding Singer and Billy Madison’s fellow Happy Madison namesake Happy Gilmore), and affection for the film only seemed to grow in online communities as time went on. While the concept of the movie always sounded promising enough, I never took the initiative to seek this movie out, having already lost my taste for his comedies. That is, until now — obviously.
Looking back on my experience watching this movie, the only thing that I can really recall as being on my mind was the sense of betrayal that I felt toward all my old friends and all the anonymous internet commenters whose posts I read and took to heart on serious movie sites. How could they have steered me so wrong?
In spite of a few amusing gags (Chris Farley and Steve Buscemi cameos, the amusing wife-hating host of a Jeopardy!-style contest), this movie, overall, is easily summed up as “idiotic.” Never mind the unrealistic subject. That I can forgive with the right execution. Billy Madison, however, is an assemblage of scenes wherein Adam Sandler plays a character who annoys everyone but the kids around him. Being a dumb Adam Sandler comedy featuring a supposedly loveable idiot, we are, of course, supposed to root for the underdog and cheer him on as he goes back to school to earn his father’s favor, take over his financial empire, and make life hell for the only guy who is actually qualified for the job and recognizes Billy for his idiocy. Again, I could easily forgive all this if the movie were actually consistently funny.
But it’s not. And it’s hard to overlook Sandler’s performance as being the primary reason it’s so bad. Here, he switches up acting like a mentally challenged chimp in a man’s body, to acting like a child in a man’s body (whose issues are only exacerbated by that volatile combination of an early pubescent mindset and a grown man’s access to alcohol and porn), and then, finally, to acting like an empathetic oaf who just wants to prove himself. The shifts are sudden and frequent, sometimes occurring within the span of a single scene – sometimes within only a few seconds, in fact – and these spastic shifts do nothing to endear us to a character who thinks talking like a baby and lighting bags of crap on fire are the epitome of comedy. The fact that Sandler was one of the film’s writers and helped write the gags doesn’t exactly help in the case against him as a murderer of comedy.
The thing is, though, Adam’s not such a bad guy. He’s managed to impress with his dramatic roles in Spanglish and Reign Over Me and has also proven to still be a pretty funny guy in The Wedding Singer, Punch Drunk Love, and even Funny People, which mostly suffered from Judd Apatow’s inability to edit himself more than anything on Sandler’s part. Why, then, does he continue to put out this crap? My guess is that he’s just having too much fun collecting his hefty paycheck with minimal effort. How else would you explain the fantasized home movie that is Grown Ups? Adam Sandler is at his best when his mania is filtered through someone else. The man is his own enemy, and, for his own sake, even if only for his reputation, someone should seriously stage an intervention. They can use Billy Madison as proof that this has gone on for far too long.
The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 1 / 5