No actor has mined the idiot-man-child routine as effectively as Adam Sandler, who rose to fame playing men with the emotional maturity of teenagers, or actual children. But somewhere along the line, the real Sandler grew up and began starring in dramas and — gasp! — playing guys with jobs and kids and the like. But does Sandler really play characters who are any more mature these days? Let’s take a look at some of his best movies to see where he’s growing — and where he’s slowing.
Billy Madison, Billy Madison
Sandler sets the template for all future dim-witted characters as the titular spoiled slacker who spends his days in the pool making up songs about suntan lotion. Even when he’s forced to complete every grade in school in order to inherit his father’s hotel chain, Billy still finds time to eat paste and stage an argument between shampoo and conditioner bottles. This is not a mature guy.
Emotional Age: 13. That sounds about right for the age at which hobbies include putting flaming bags of dog poop on neighbors’ doorsteps.
Happy Gilmore, Happy Gilmore
He can’t handle the delicate sensibilities of the gold crowd. (Though who can?) He yells at a golf ball. He gets into a fight with an old man, some young men, and — okay — everyone. Yet on the outside, he’s a full-grown (and balding!) man. Happy is easily Sandler’s most aggressive character. And while his anger comes in handy for power drives, it proves to be a detriment when Happy is paired with Bob Barker at a celebrity tournament.
Emotional Age: Loves nothing more than fighting? Sounds like a 16-year-old.
Robbie Hart, The Wedding Singer
Sandler makes his first major emotional jump forward with Robbie, who’s a nice guy with a job and who really just wants to be married. Okay, so maybe he does lapse into the occasional bitter rant during wedding performances. The guy was left at the altar! Cut him some slack. While a bit stalled in the romance and career departments, Robbie’s doing all right for himself and has the good sense to transfer his marital aspirations to Julia (Drew Barrymore), a girl as sweet as can be.
Emotional Age: 30.
Robert “Bobby” Boucher Jr., The Waterboy
So much for onscreen maturity. Boucher — a developmentally stunted, stammering water boy turned football star — is a huge step back. Even more childlike than Gilmore and Madison, Boucher is a shy mama’s boy constantly picked on by the football players he brings water to. And like pretty much every Sandler character, Bobby is quick to anger, a character flaw that comes in handy when he’s recruited to be a linebacker for the Louisiana State Mud Dogs.
Emotional Age: 10.
Sonny Koufax, Big Daddy
At first, 31-year-old Sonny seems like every other Sandler layabout. Living off a legal settlement, he eschews the bar exam and works at a tollbooth, spending his time hanging out with buddies. But when forced to look after his roommate’s illegitimate son, Sonny sees it as a way to get his girlfriend back. Of course, he eventually grows fond of the little tyke. Still, he does use the kid for some immature shenanigans, teaching him all about public urination and pulling a prank on a hapless delivery guy.
Emotional Age: 21. But at least he’s more mature than the kid!
Barry Egan, Punch-Drunk Love
Barry, a loner prone to taking out his anger on inanimate objects (he confesses to “beating up the bathroom”), has it kind of rough. He’s henpecked by mean sisters, extorted by a shady phone-sex operator, and tries in vain to keep his budding relationship from ending before it begins. And like many Sandler characters, love causes Barry to shake his antisocial tendencies and become a real boy — er, man. Granted, he accomplishes this by shouting at Philip Seymour Hoffman a lot.
Emotional Age: 28, with room to grow.
George Simmons, Funny People
George Simmons acts his age. You heard that right. George Simmons, an Adam Sandler character, acts his age. Simmons is a comedian turned movie star who, when diagnosed with leukemia, starts to open up to his assistant and protégé, Ira (Seth Rogen), and attempts to reconcile with his ex (Leslie Mann). But despite his health scare, George is cruel to Ira and selfishly starts an affair with his married ex. This guy is truly troubled, but, hey, he’s not immature!
Emotional Age: Full-on midlife crisis.
Danny Maccabee, Just Go With It
Middle age wasn’t good to Sandler because Danny Maccabee does not have the emotional maturity of your average middle-aged man. What this womanizer does have is a truly immature plan: pretending to have an ex-wife and kids in order to win over a younger woman, who is into that sort of thing. It seems moviegoers just can’t get enough of Sandler’s perpetually arrested development.
Emotional Age: 13, yet again.