It’s reductive because nostalgia strips away past unpleasantness, keeping only the things that made you happy. A lot of people amplify those good things, remembering the past as a series of warm, floating, blissful encounters that were only possible when all was right with the world.
It’s lazy because nothing could be easier, and it’s ultimately boring because once people create their pasts’ imaginary Candy Land, they tend to filter everything through that lens. Living in the present becomes a matter of being constantly disappointed and bitching about how things should be, rather than dealing with the way they actually are.
The reasons could be political (dirty liberals/conservatives have destroyed the institution of x), personal (when director Dennis Dugan was younger, everything was so wonderful), or just blamed on the inevitable march of time (I don’t understand you damned kids and your crazy music!).
“Grown Ups” is basically a 100-minute exercise in stripping away the characters’ complicated lives and replacing them with the happy-go-lucky days of 1978.
Back then, Lenny (Adam Sandler, “Funny People”), Eric (Kevin James, “Paul Blart: Mall Cop”), Kurt (Chris Rock, “Death at a Funeral”), Marcus (David Spade, TV’s “Rules of Engagement”) and Rob (Rob Schneider, “Bedtime Stories”) were a winning basketball team, led by Coach Buzzer (Blake Clark, “Toy Story 3″), who encouraged them to be champions in life, just as they were on the court. The day they won the championship seems to have been one of the high points of each guy’s life.
Thirty years later, Coach Buzzer has gone to the big gymnasium in the sky, and each team member brings his family back to New England for the funeral. Lenny, who has become a big-shot Hollywood agent, rents the lake house in which they celebrated their victory back in ’78 so everyone can stay together over the weekend. Lenny brings his wife, Roxanne (Salma Hayek, “Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant”), and their three kids; his buddies bring their wives and rugrats, too.
They go to the funeral and then hang out at the lake. Being rich, Lenny’s kids have never connected with their primal “regular kid” instincts, so they have to learn to play with rocks, swing from ropes, and do other dangerous kid stuff. In true “Green Acres” style, famous fashion designer Roxanne has to put up with not having four-star accommodations. Everyone else is a working-class slob, so they all act like the lake house is Buckingham Palace.
And that’s pretty much it. With the stage set, Sandler and company cycle through a series of goofy situations: The guys play “arrow roulette,” stare at young women, drink a little bit and generally get to know each other again. Together, they slowly replay all the things they experienced together as kids, and enjoy watching their own kids get into to the same shenanigans.
As far as silly situations go, “Grown Ups” provides some funny moments. Steve Buscemi (“Youth in Revolt”) slums, as he often does in Sandler productions, turning in funny shtick as a member of Sandler’s childhood basketball rivals.
Oddly, nothing really happens. The entire movie is just a group of people having a good time. A few pin pricks of angst exist among them, but whenever they bubble to the surface, they simply dissipate as soon as the scene is over and the crew has moved on to another fart/sex/physical injury/gross-out joke.
What’s even weirder is that as the film progresses, the characters stop indulging in personal nostalgia for their shared past, and move into a weird societal nostalgia for the Good Ol’ Days. They go on an honest-to-Christ hayride and wind up at a Fourth of July picnic where the whole town sits on blankets and watches old-timey guys in red-white-and-blue hats play patriotic music on a bunting-trimmed bandstand while fireworks light the star-filled sky.
In any case, financially, this movie will do well. There are a lot of people bummed out about the world right now, and “Grown Ups” will make some feel a little bit better for a while, because that’s what nostalgia does.
It doesn’t solve anything, but it’s really great for pretending everything is fine until you leave the theater. —Mike Robertson