Adam Sandler’s comedy is in a strange place. It seems caught between the absurd humor from his early work and the awkward family humor of his more recent films. As such, it only really hits maybe half the time, with the other half eliciting cringes more than laughs. Yet, films like Blended manage to end on a high note despite dragging audiences through some tough scenes, mainly due to genuine sentimentality that Sandler films somehow cull from their casts of oddball misfits. Thankfully, it’s the emotional connection that audiences will remember, and not the onslaught of bad comedy bits.
Jim (Sandler) and Lauren (Drew Barrymore) are on the worst blind date of their lives together. Jim, a widower with three daughters, has taken Lauren, a divorcée with two sons, to Hooters for dinner where he ends up acting like a jackass and she insults the memory of his wife. The two don’t plan on having any kind of relationship afterward, but unlikely circumstances throw the two families together on a dream vacation in Africa, forcing them all to share one hotel room. By chance, the African getaway is themed for the families of broken homes to “blend” with other families. So, despite their huge differences and in spite of themselves, Jim and Lauren and their kids find themselves getting along against all odds. But are any of them ready for this big change?
Regardless of how the spots and trailers are selling the movie, the draw of Blended should really be the sentimentality that arises between the two families. The story of two families, each reeling from the loss of a parent, potentially overcoming their differences and coming together is always an interesting, satisfying and cathartic premise. The family unit has long been considered a sacred and safe group, and allowing new members typically requires an initiation and hazing process the likes that even hardcore gangs would loathe. So to have broken families repair themselves with other broken families is amazing to watch on an intimate level, and it’s this aspect that Blended gets right.
And from this unlikely pairing comes the genuine comedy that target audiences will appreciate. Jim is absolutely clueless when it comes to the delicate needs of his daughters (Bella Thorne, Emma Fuhrmann, Alyvia Alyn Lind), so even picking out feminine products is a struggle. Conversely, Lauren isn’t able to provide the masculine support that her boys (Braxton Beckham, Kyle Red Silverstein) crave, rendering them frustrated and stunted. So watching Jim and Lauren awkwardly fill the gaps in each other’s lives is fun to experience, albeit in a very expected way.
Regrettably, Blended forces audiences to endure bit after unfunny bit before the good stuff comes. From the very first scene, with Jim and Lauren on their blind date, the film tries too hard to deliver the comedy. The characters are obviously not attracted to each other, but the film goes to ham-fisted lengths to illustrate just how disinterested they are in each other. At one point, Jim even downs Lauren’s beer while she’s in the restroom. Later he confesses that he didn’t know why he did that. It’s never good comedy when actions are performed without reason. Unfortunately, much of the gags follow this line of reasoning. That’s not to say that none of the bits are funny; some of the absurd humor, like Terry Crews as an omnipresent expositional singer or Shaquille O’Neal as an unlikely confidant, will get a few chuckles. Overall, however, most of the scenes are only going to play well to very young audiences – think pre-teens and younger.
It’s time for Sandler to pick a side with his comedies. Either revert back to the goofball humor of yesteryear or embrace his maturity and deliver something more clever than surface. Blended offers a middle-of-the-road compromise and the film suffers for it. While families will ultimately enjoy this movie, like most family trips, it won’t be without unnecessary suffering.