Mixed Nuts, The Bounty Hunter, Click, Rumor Has It, Bulletproof, Derailed, Eight Crazy Nights, The Switch, Grown Ups. Those are the titles of nine of the 53 movies Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston have appeared in separately. (The 54th is this week's Just Go With It, starring both of them.) What would happen to you if you watched all nine on that list in a row? Brain trauma? Eyeball burn? Having seen them, I’ll save you the guessing: yes.
And no, I'm not asking for sympathy. I'm actually going to defend some of their movies right now. Because it's my job to dive into the culture product dumpster and dig out the stuff that won't ruin your Sunday afternoon couch time. And with these two, one trip into the dumpster is all you need to retrieve the good.
Sandler is trickier to navigate than Aniston. You have to divide his movies into three general piles: Early Moron, Mid-Career Moron-Adjacent and The Ones Where He Stretches. Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore, stuff like that is all Early Moron. I'm an easy laugh and I think those movies are hilarious even though I know it means there's something wrong with me. Whatever.
It's when you get into his Mid-Career films, the ones where he seems to be pretty much just playing himself, but in somewhat more high-concept and/or extreme circumstances, that you have to steer clear. Those are the landmines. You may enjoy 50 First Dates or Grown Ups or I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. It's fine if you do. But don't pretend they're good. You know better. Somewhere inside, you know better. Of that batch, the lone decent entry is The Wedding Singer.
So here are three of The Ones Where He Stretches that you might want to give a chance:
Punch Drunk Love – What if you took a typical Adam Sandler character and landed him in the dull real world? What if his arrested development was shown to be exactly that? Suddenly it would all seem darker. If for no other reason, this movie is worth looking at for that stuff.
Reign Over Me – Sandler plays a grieving, locked-in 9/11 widower. It never takes you where you think it's going to. It's no United 93, but it doesn’t punish you like that one either. Okay, yes, it punishes you a little.
Funny People – A strange, long (2 ½ hours), rambling movie about too many things where you wonder if it's all going to tie together somehow. It kind of does and sometimes doesn't, but Sandler is great as an Adam Sandler-ish movie star with cancer. Really funny cancer.
Aniston's movie career is a little easier to break down. There are the Bad Romances, The Few Movies Where She Plays A Mom and then, finally, The Ones Where She's Disgruntled.
Skip all the Bad Romances. All of them. There is not one part of your life they'll improve. The Mom movies worth seeing—The Iron Giant and Marley & Me—are about loving pets who die, one with fur and one with bolts. Neither film is embarrassing and, in fact, Iron Giant is flat-out great. She brings warmth to just the right spots, sort of like you'd expect her to. But what you really want from Aniston is barely repressed anger, even shout-filled rage. Because she's oddly compelling when she's pissed off. Not vicious-movie-star-lady-stole-my-husband pissed off, just the usual my-job-sucks-and-I'm-poor-and-annoyed-by-everyone pissed off. To see this in action, watch:
The Good Girl – Aniston as go-nowhere grocery store clerk.
Friends With Money – Aniston as go-nowhere stoner housekeeper.
Office Space – Aniston as go-nowhere TGIFriday's waitress.
All of them are about diminished expectations, class resentment and dead-end dreams. I know, I know, "indie funny." But still, this is her darker comic side, her version of stretching, and I wish she'd go against type like that more often. They're the movies that have been seen by probably the least number of people (even Office Space is sort of a cult film) and that's likely the reason. It's not a lot of folks who think misery is full of laugh potential. But whatever it takes to spare the world another Rumor Has It is worth it.
Oh, and Leprechaun. You gotta see that, too. It didn't fit into my three categories, obviously. Killer leprechaun movies defy that sort of easy classification.