When I say Adam Sandler movie, I mean an Adam Sandler movie. Sandler has been great in projects since The Waterboy (1998). Notably, Punch Drunk Love (2002) is exceptional, and Sandler is great in it. Last year’s The Meyerowitz Stories (2017) was well-received, and, once again, Sandler is great. These films, though, are Paul Thomas Anderson and Noah Baumbach films respectively.
Adam Sandler movies as we know and maybe love them, were never good again after The Waterboy.
Sandler had quite a run from 1995 to 1998. Starting with Billy Madison (a fantastically absurd comedy that somehow got made), to Happy Gilmore and The Wedding Singer, Sandler was absolutely unstoppable during this period.
It didn’t come crashing down in The Waterboy, a film that is actually quite funny. It happened after. Sandler’s earlier comedies notably eschewed sentimentality unless in an absurd way. Look at Chubbs in Happy Gilmore. The film does flit into sentimentality with him, but this is a character who had his hand bitten off by an alligator and dies by falling out of a window when Happy presents him with the alligator’s head that took his hand.
The Wedding Singer really starts to skirt that line of being too sentimental, but the periodness of the film taking place in the 1980s kind of saves it. It’s frankly hard to take the sentimentality too serious when Adam Sandler is wearing the clothes he wears in the film.
The Waterboy is one last successful flourish in the arena of the absurd for Sandler. He plays Bobby Boucher (the name alone is fantastically funny; Kanye West must have thought so too). Sure, much of the comedy exists in Sandler’s bizarre attempt at a Cajun accent (I think) and Boucher’s social ineptitude, as well as the social ineptitude of the townspeople. We even got a catchphrase that still permeates the social consciousness (“You can do it!”)
When you watch The Waterboy, you don’t have to look far for moments of absolute absurdity, moments that really have no place in the film, other than the creators found them funny. There’s Farmer Fran, who gets more ridiculous the further you get in the film. There’s Coach Klein sitting on the football. There’s Bobby Boucher talking to a youth football camp. These moments don’t really have anything to do with the plot. They’re just funny. This staple would start to decline from Sandler films as the years progressed.
Sandler’s first film after The Waterboy was Big Daddy, the first glimpse into his future. From there, he would attempt more of his absurd ways to little effect. Little Nicky is still the worst film I’ve had the pleasure of seeing in a movie theater. Eight Crazy Nights may be the worst animated film ever made.
50 First Dates, Spanglish, and Click in the mid-2000s would fully engulf Sandler in that sentimentality that he just can’t pull off. Even his most successful acting jobs lack sentimentality. They use that angry pathos found in those early films to tell stories of very unhappy, depressed men.
As the last great “Adam Sandler” film, The Waterboy deserves to move on today. I love Becky O’Shea, Junior, and Tad from Little Giants as much as the next guy, but The Waterboy is better.