Now: Role Models (2008)
Then: Big Daddy (1999)
Opening this weekend, David Wain’s Role Models stars Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott as two slackers forced to provide 150 hours of mentoring to two young boys or go to jail. In 1999’s Big Daddy , Adam Sandler plays an underachieving man-boy forced by circumstance to act as the father-figure to an abandoned kid. (Tissues please.) The two movies even have similar posters — I guess public urination is Hollywood shorthand for “unfit to care for children” — but which movie is the real pisser?
Role Models spotlights a pair of fairly mature kids with serious issues and enough life experience to have a geeky romance in one case and to swear like a sailor in the other. In Big Daddy, Sandler’s charge is five — which means a different kind of comedy entirely. Also, since Sandler’s brat doesn’t have a home to go back to, he’s saddled with more responsibility and the potential for more growth.
Outside of their leading men, both movies have a great backbench of supporting players. Role Models has Jane Lynch (Best in Show), Elizabeth Banks (Zack and Miri Make a Porno), Ken Jeong ( The 40-Year-Old Virgin ) and Joe Lo Truglio ( The Ten ); Big Daddy has Leslie Bibb ( Knocked Up ), Jon Stewart (The Daily Show), Steve Buscemi ( Reservoir Dogs ), Joey Lauren Adams (Chasing Amy) and Rob Schneider ( The Animal ). Ultimately, Big Daddy has bigger names and gives them more to do.
Role Models climaxes with Rudd and Scott fighting alongside their boys at a roleplaying medieval tournament, which not only provides great slapstick but also gives the movie one of its best visual gags with its costumes. (No spoilers here.) Big Daddy climaxes with a court case — is Sandler fit to be a father? — and a heartfelt speech from Sandler to his own movie dad (the great Joe Bologna). Does a good comedy build to silliness or sentiment? More importantly, is there a hard and fast rule?
Role Models gets a lot of things right; the jokes are smartly stupid with Rudd and Scott at the top of their game. In contrast, Big Daddy is standard Sandler (lots of weirdly aggressive yelling) with a bit of color from co-star Schneider in “wacky” ethnic make-up. At the end of this one, what counts is the message and Sandler grows up (as much as he can). Role Models never pretends to teach, but as comedies go, who wants a lesson when you can get a laugh? Role Models has more of them.