Big Daddy (1999)
Directed by Dennis Dugan
Cast: Adam Sandler, Cole Sprouse, Dylan Sprouse, Joey Lauren Adams, Rob Schneider, Leslie Mann, Jon Stewart, Allen Covert, Kristy Swanson, Josh Mostel, Steve Buscemi.
1999 91 minutes
Rated: (for profanity and bathroom-style humor).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, June 26, 1999.
Who would have thought that when Adam Sandler first appeared in a starring role on the big screen in 1995's inane "Billy Madison," I would be saying that Sandler is maturing as an actor four years later. Since that lowpoint in his feature film career, indeed Sandler has grown on me. 1996's "Happy Gilmore" was at least funny, and 1998's sleeper smash hit, "The Waterboy," was mediocre but passable (thanks mostly to the supporting performances from Kathy Bates and Fairuza Balk). It wasn't until February of '98, however, that I actually found a Sandler film that I could wholeheartedly say that, yes, I loved that movie. Its name was "The Wedding Singer," and with Sandler not constantly being a doofus and aided by the sparkling Drew Barrymore, it was one of the most entertaining films of the whole year. "Big Daddy," Adam Sandler's latest comedy, has attempted to mix his token bathroom humor for the hormonal teenage male audience with the lighthearted and sweet tone of "The Wedding Singer." The result is a film that is merely good, quite flawed, but, yes, Sandler is maturing as an actor.
Sonny Koufax (Adam Sandler) is a 32-year-old guy living in NYC who went to college to become a lawyer, but never became one because he refused to take the bar exam. Working only one day a week as a tollbooth operater, his girlfriend, Vanessa (Kristy Swanson), is becoming frustrated because, as she tells him, "you refuse to move on to the next phase of your life." Right after his best friend and roommate, Kevin (Jon Stewart), has left to work in China, the 5-year-old, cute-as-a-button Julian (twins Cole and Dylan Sprouse) is literally left at his doorstep with a note that says Kevin is his biological father. All alone in the world, Sonny kindly takes Julian into his home, and before long, Vanessa is out of the picture too, leaving him for an old man with "a 5-year plan." Until a foster family is found, Sonny (posing as Kevin) convinces the social worker to let him keep Julian, as opposed to staying in an orphanage. But a funny thing happens on the way through the adoption process, as Sonny grows deeply attached to Julian and sees it as a way to finally grow up himself.
"Big Daddy" is a spirited, very funny heartwarmer that actually, like "The Wedding Singer," turns out to be a lot more humorous than Sandler's more straightforward comedies. The film especially gains laughs from the observations of watching Sonny's decidedly easy-going, "loose" parenting style and from the supporting characters, including a Russian delivery man (Rob Schneider) and a wacky homeless guy (Steve Buscemi). The movie also has its fair share of peeing jokes and physical pratfalls to satisfy any juvenile fan, but they are kept more discreet than the majority of Sandler's past excursions.
What many might be surprised about concerning "Big Daddy," however, is that the film also works as a bittersweet, comedy-laced drama, and also as a sweet little romance. The drama becomes more apparent during the climax, which inevitably takes place in court, with Sonny in a custody battle. Unfortunately, this is the film's weakest link, as the sappiness starts to grow a bit thick by this point, but saves itself with a wrap-up that might not be quite as predictable as you'd expect.
The romance, although slightly underwritten and more effective in "The Wedding Singer" (then again, that movie revolved around the love story), actually turns out to work very well, thanks mostly to Joey Lauren Adams (1997's marvelous "Chasing Amy"), as Layla, a beautiful, young lawyer and the sister of Kevin's fiancee, Corinne (Leslie Mann), a former Hooters waitress who despises Sonny. Adams is a radiant, natural actress who can brighten up any scene in any movie she appears in (whether it be "Chasing Amy," 1993's nostalgic "Dazed and Confused," or this year's criminally overlooked "A Cool, Dry Place," opposite Vince Vaughn). Adams and Sandler share an especially charming scene that left me with a huge, dorky smile plastered across my face, in which they tell Julian a bedtime store, replacing their own budding relationship with that of a rabbit and a squirrel. Come to think of it, that grin returned onto my face every time Adams appeared.
And finally, in the limelight of everything, is Adam Sandler, who has finally become a movie actor that I really, really enjoy. Here he replaces any sort of grating personality with that of an affectionate one, and still never loses sight of his own comic talents. Watching Comedy Central's recent "Canned Ham" episode on the making of "Big Daddy," in which we meet and talk with Sandler's own family, I learned that Sandler is a normal, caring man, and one with a lot of love to give his family, friends, and relatives. With that said, Sandler's Sonny is probably the closest he has come to portraying himself, and works wonders with Cole and Dylan Sprouse, adorable twins who play Julian and escape without becoming unctuous and annoying like most kid actors.
For all of the charm "Big Daddy" has, the film is pretty light stuff, not deep or meaningful or even that memorable. It's also hard to believe, for example, that Sonny could keep such a nice, roomy loft by only working one day a week. The aforementioned courtroom scene is corny as only mainstream films can be, but I surprisingly didn't mind that much, in spite of myself. If anything, the movie is funny, plain and simple, and due to the several noted performances that are far above this slight material, I found I was enjoying "Big Daddy" quite a lot. Probably more than I had any right to.
©1999 by Dustin Putman