It’s been a long time since there has been reason to pay attention to an Adam Sandler film. The last film he starred in that is worth your time is 2009’s Funny People, in which Sandler plays an aging comic working through a cancer diagnosis. In that movie, Sandler is excellent. The movie is funny yes, but more it is about the notion of funny. Which is an interesting subject for Sandler to explore because he is, in the opinion of this writer, not that funny.
For 20 years Sandler has been playing the same man-baby character, one who doesn’t make jokes, just uses three or four behavioral moves to undercut people around him. And for 20 years, he’s annoyed and delighted adults and children. But has he ever been funny? Really? Can he craft a joke that makes sense and gets laughs? Perhaps, in the 90s. The Wedding SInger has some actual jokes. But today? Jokes just seems like too much work for Sandler.
Which brings us to his latest film. During the filming of his comedy, The Ridiculous 6, a dozen Native American actors, actresses, and cultural advisors walked off the shoot. The actors and advisors left the set , reports Indian County, “after the satirical western’s script repeatedly insulted native women and elders and grossly misrepresented Apache culture.”
The Ridiculous 6, a western spoof of the The Magnificent Seven, will be a Netflix-only release, part of a deal that Happy Madison Productions signed to bring four films to the streaming service. The film stars Sandler, and is written by Adam Sandler and writing partner Tim Herlihy.
It’s not difficult to see the offense taken in the script. Native women are particularly targeted, with names such as No Bra and Beaver’s Breath; one woman smokes a peace pipe will squatting to pee.
Actor Loren Anthony had expressed initial skepticism about the film, but was convinced by the producers that The Ridiculous 6 would not be a racist portrait of American Indians. But that’s not what he found during the shoot. “They just treated us as if we should just be on the side,” Anthony said. “When we did speak with the main director, he was trying to say the disrespect was not intentional and this was a comedy.”
Another actor in the film, Allison Young, brought concerns to the producer. “They just told us, ‘If you guys are so sensitive, you should leave.’ I was just standing there and got emotional and teary-eyed. I didn’t want to cry but the feeling just came over me. This is supposed to be a comedy that makes you laugh. A film like this should not make someone feel this way.”
Netflix, for their part, is standing behind the production. They released a statement highlighting the comic nature of The Ridiculous 6, saying, “The movie has ridiculous in the title for a reason: because it is ridiculous. It is a broad satire of Western movies and the stereotypes they popularized, featuring a diverse cast that is not only part of — but in on — the joke.”
Obviously not everyone was in on the joke.
This whole story is neither surprising, nor unexpected. Adam Sandler and his company, Happy Madison Productions, have been making bad movies for the past fifteen years. They’re lowest common denominator comedies that do not rely on jokes, but behavior and familiarity. Calling a native woman No Bra is not a joke, its an insult; saying it’s satire is not an impenetrable defense for being an ass.
Sandler has always tried for the “so stupid it’s smart” angle in his career, but he has never achieved it. Ever. (This is not a high-brow v. low-brow argument. So stupid its smart has a rich tradition in Hollywood, and has produced terrific comedy). As a young actor on SNL and in his early comedies, the weirdness of his schtick felt new and funny, even if it wasn’t (those movies don’t hold up, sorry). He went on to show that, given the opportunity and the motivation, he could act. Not just in comic roles (he has a few good ones), but in dramatic roles, too. But for whatever reason, he stopped acting entirely in favor of his man-baby characters. That’s his choice.
But if a comedy writer in 2015 can still write a native woman in a script named Beaver’s Breath and think that’s NOT racist, it’s time to for audiences to recognize the problem and stop rewarding perhaps the laziest person in Hollywood.