28 April 2003 | aliciadipesto
Sandler's lovable fool has a serious message while slipping on a banana skin
Nobody goes to see an Adam Sandler movie for spiritual enrichment or intellectual stimulation - let's get that out of the way first. Once you accept you've paid your money to be mildly entertained in a lighthearted, slapstick manner, strap in and enjoy the ride.
I keep hearing Sandler is a major Hollywood player these days with an equal footing as producer as he is actor (he has produced a considerable amount with fellow actor Rob Schneider - the similarly inane but funny - mostly in spite of yourself - Hot Chick being the most recent example, in which he has a cameo role and indeed, Schneider helps Sandler out in Mr Deeds) so it's hard to prove that Sandler is now typecast as a lovable fool, because it's fairly likely he chose the part himself, possibly aware that Hamlet might be a little out of his league. Sandler need only check his bank balance to see that the lovable fool is certainly a lucrative one, having made an absolute mint playing countless other characters blessed with naive charm and a heart of gold.
The story - we all know it's a remake of the classic depression-era propaganda film starring Gary Cooper, designed to lift spirits and foster a sense of community - centres around a picturesque New England town and its perenially-cheerful, smalltown inhabitants, chiefly Longfellow Deeds (Sandler), who inherits a fortune from an uncle he never knew, finds himself at the helm of a media empire and heads to the Big Apple to find out more. Here Winona Ryder steps in as the ambitious TV reporter determined to get her big scoop and dupes the affable Deeds into falling in love with her. All the time she's wearing a wire and a hidden camera to enable their courtship and his antics, sometimes drunken, sometimes heroic, to be broadcast on the evening news. Typically Deeds is the last to know and is appalled when he makes the connection. By which time Ryder's character has fallen in love herself, resigned from her job and is begging for a second chance.
Deeds' only flaw is a short fuse and this is at odds with his generous spirit, who at times could be George Bailey, James Stewart's kindly smalltown character in Capra's It's a Wonderful Life (1946), but this spices things up a little and allows the suspension of disbelief to continue a little longer. The number of disrespectful, foulmouthed city folk he takes out is entertaining, while not always convincing, but then times have changed and these days your average bloke doesn't think of taking a swing at a man for swearing in front of a lady (more's the pity I say).
While you could aim criticism at this and jeer at the corny lines and simplistic moral at the film's end, there is something to be cherished here. The moral of course being that money is less important than being true to yourself, and while you're at it, be nice to your neighbour. As Mother Teresa once said, kindly words are heard once but their echoes are heard for ever - Deeds' character and his deeds (pun definitely intended) themselves are echoes of another, lamentably more innocent time and it's uplifting to see this spirit so laboured in the film's remake. It's also refreshing to see this bravely recreated by the producers, who have not shied away from dealing with the film's essence in these cynical times.
It's not all sentimental Queen of Hearts stuff though. There are some hilarious, laugh-out-loud moments that counter the film's message perfectly - the helicopter ride to Manhattan where the crew and Deeds are singing 'A Space Oddity' complete with air-guitar springs to mind here - and there is the usual dose of slapstick you'd expect from a Sandler picture. The 7 flying cats rescued from a burning building by our hero is particularly memorable and as I say, I was laughing in spite of myself.
This humour compliments the film's slushy message and prevents any actual retching in the theatre - leaving the cinemagoer shuffling out content, with a smile on his face - definitely a feelgood movie. I just hope Sandler doesn't attempt It's A Wonderful Life next, I don't think the world's quite ready yet.