My favorite Happy Madison movie is the one that probably made the least money, and it’s the one that doesn’t even star Adam Sandler.
That was Grandma’s Boy, the underdog comedy that was released in January of 2006, 15 years ago this month. It was something of a showcase for a pair of Sandler’s longtime sidekicks — Allen Covert and Nick Swardson — who starred in the film, co-produced it with Sandler, and co-wrote it with Barry Wernick.
The film had a fun premise, funny gags, and it was missing a lot of the fat often associated with Sandler comedies, namely the tiresome mugging. Yes, there’s plenty of gross-out sex and drug jokes, even by Happy Madison standards. But Grandma’s Boy managed to see some cultural phenomena coming.
Grandma’s Boy managed to see some cultural phenomena coming
Grandma’s Boy stars Covert as Alex, a 36-year-old man who lives with a friend until his roommate has been found to have spent both of their rent money on prostitutes. So Alex moves in with this grandmother (Doris Roberts), and his life suddenly gets way better. Swardson — a very talented stand-up comedian whose profane game-day rants are one of the few remaining saving graces about rooting for the Minnesota Vikings — plays his buddy and coworker, who lives with his parents and sleeps in a race car bed.
Alex has the nerd dream job of working as a video game tester, and he soon falls for a corporate employee of the video game company (Freaks and Geeks‘ great Linda Cardellini). The villain is the creator of the video game (Joel Moore), who as a loathsome, sexual harassment-prone creep in that particular industry, nailed a cultural archetype years before the rise of Gamergate. The film also predicted a lot of things about incels, years before there was even a word for it.
There are cameos by some of Sandler’s old SNL colleagues, including Kevin Nealon, Rob Schneider, and David Spade, and a pre-fame Jonah Hill has a small part, appearing in a debaucherous workplace years before The Wolf of Wall Street.
Grandma’s Boy works because it’s a funny, relatable story, which is set in a believable approximation of the video game business. It was an early-January release, which is never a good sign, although the film became a minor cult hit after it came out on video later that year. Critics, though, savaged the film, gaining just a 16 percent positive score on Rotten Tomatoes, although the audience score was 85 percent, based on 226,287 ratings. Critics called it an “Absolutely dreadful and offensive comedy,” one in which “hilarity fails to ensue in the workplace or at home.”
One writer seemed to appreciate the film back in 2006 — Reihan Salam, then writing for Slate, although these days more associated with conservative political media. Salam defended the film, a few months after it came and went from theaters.
Gaining just a 16 percent positive score on Rotten Tomatoes, although the audience score was 85 percent
“Only Grandma’s Boy, perhaps the most underrated movie ever made, can save us from this Spenglerian spiral of misery and torment,” Salam wrote. “I came to realize, in all seriousness, that Grandma’s Boy is the most thoughtful meditation on the plight of the beta male that I’ve ever seen.”
It might be too much to call Grandma’s Boy a major comedy, but it resonates today, in a way that few Sandler movies of the day did.