Every year, one of my nieces comes to visit my husband and I for a week over the summer. This year we took her to a couple of art museums, a jazz concert, and her first comic book store. We also did fun things at home like painting our nails and playing video games. On the last day of our visit, we decided to see a movie, and she wanted to see Grown-Ups. I did too, as a matter of fact.
I’m happy to report that I genuinely liked the movie. Though it has some foibles, that we’ll get to in a moment, the film is genuinely family friendly. Not only that, but it’s also family-centric. It’s enjoyable to see these guys, who are obviously friends in real life, working together on screen. On top of that, this is honestly the perfect summer movie. There’s a lake, a lake house, a rope swing, a picnic, and a vacation vibe that makes it the perfect movie for the upcoming Fourth of July weekend.
In Adam Sandler movies from years past, women were typically just there to serve beer in a bikini or reward him with sexual activity for academic or sports-related progress; here they get to be actual people with a more three-dimensional and emotional story. Though Grown-Ups is definitely a movie written by and made for men (nothing wrong with that), one senses that Sandler and company are genuinely trying to be more respectful and inclusive of their female characters. They don’t always hit the mark with that intended change, but their effort seems sincere.
We do get some of the stereotypical “nag” jokes, but hey…those are funny in small doses. I'm not one of those feminists who thinks you can't make any jokes out of female characters at all. I'm more in the Tina Fey school of "anyone is fair game," along with any subject matter as long as there's a level playing field of mockery. The men in the film seem to be at a time in their lives when they are feeling emasculated, but their problems stem from their own lack of action, not from the action of their wives. Though the story teeters around blaming the women for the men's problems, hallelujah, it never really does. I had characters to identify with that weren’t simply present to be pleasing to the male gaze, and filmmakers take note: non-sexist plots will make you more money at the box office.
Okay, so there was one slow-mo cheerleaders running scene, but it was of the wives cheering on their husbands, and quite frankly, I'd rather see the camera trained on the wife characters as being the visually appealing ones than some random girl bending over a car. (See the next paragraph.) In fact, there was almost a sweetness to this scene, although my fellow feminists may hunt me down for saying so. Part of any healthy relationship is finding your partner attractive, and I don't want there to be such a feminist backlash where we say any woman who wants to be attractive, or is, is a traitor. That just doesn't seem fair.
In all fairness, there were still several parts of the film that made me wince, especially with my 14-year-old niece by my side. In one sequence, you’ve seen it in the preview, a clearly under-aged girl, dressed far too scantily, leans over a car in a highly suggestive manner so that the older, married men can gawk at her. Kind of gross and definitely not realistic. We’re not stupid. We really don’t care to get hot oil or steam burns all over ourselves while tinkering with our cars, and we don’t lick our lips and make come-hither eyes at an engine. Oddly, I found myself forgiving these clearly exploitative moments, and my niece simply got through it by looking at me and rolling her eyes.
If you have a young daughter, the film might be a good gateway to discussing the portrayal of women on film. After all, if we censored what our kids watched based on sexism alone, they wouldn’t see much of anything at all. Better to watch it with them and talk about it. And this film is a great introduction to talking about lots of things: texting, video games, playing outside, marriage. In fact, I'd like to see a sequel since the cast had such genuine chemistry. If you can’t get your inner critic to shut up, Grown-Ups might be just the thing.