The movie spends a lot of time venturing to develop a meaningful relationship between the two families and, at times, the filmmakers actually brush against a deeper (not to mention smarter) story.
In Blended, single parents Jim Friedman (Adam Sandler) and Lauren Reynolds (Drew Barrymore) are setup on a blind date; yet, despite the best of intentions, their meet up ends in disaster with no chance of a followup. Later, a surprise encounter at a local drug store doesn't go any smoother and the pair storm away from the front door trading insults with no intention of ever meeting again - until they end-up on the same "familymoon."
After Lauren's business partner dumps Jim's boss, Lauren and Jim, unbeknownst to one another, purchase separate halves of the couple's now canceled family vacation - a luxurious trip to an Africa resort. Upon arrival, Jim (along with his three girls) and Lauren (joined by her two boys) go their separate ways - only to realize that many of their bargain vacation activities have been booked together as part of a "Blended Family Weekend" at the resort. With no choice but to spend time as a family, Jim, Lauren, and the kids attempt to make the best of their situation but will they actually "blend"?
Frequent Adam Sandler collaborator Frank Coraci directs the actor in his third romantic comedy film with Barrymore. The pair had previously been featured in 50 First Dates and The Wedding Singer (which was directed by Coraci) to both critical and commercial acclaim and, after a string of profitable but mostly panned projects like Jack and Jill, Grown Ups 2, and Zookeeper, a rom-com with Barrymore may be a welcome (albeit safe) palate cleanser for moviegoers that have tired of Sandler's childish antics. There's a tenderness to the story that will connect with certain modern moviegoers - many of which will have faced the same challenges of single parenthood, step siblings, as well as absentee mothers or fathers. This isn't to say that Blended is a fresh and bold new chapter in Sandler's career - since Coraci's film still prioritizes low-brow humor and cheap gags (often at the expense of heart-warming character drama).
Despite grounding in relatable blended family dynamics, the story is formulaic. Jim is a sports-obsessed father to three tomboys and completely naive to the needs or struggles of women (young or adult). Conversely, Lauren is a control freak mother of two defiant boys who struggles to enforce discipline and respect in her household. For that reason, it shouldn't come as much of a surprise to hear that many of the film's most endearing exchanges actually revolve around Jim teaching Lauren's boys to be men and Lauren helping Jim's girls to embrace their femininity - which in turn causes both parents to see beyond preconceived notions that floundered their initial meeting.
To his credit, Sandler dials back his heavy-handed schtick (slightly) to make room for Barrymore and the ensemble cast - ensuring that Jim is more than a cartoonish oaf. In fact, more than any other character, Jim is representative of the movie's well-intentioned but clumsy effort to balance heart and humor. Sandler presents Jim as a slight variation on the loud and overbearing caricature that has maintained his brand from Billy Madison to Grown Ups 2 but as the Blended plot unfolds, the audience and Lauren begin to understand that there's more to Jim's quirks (and that infamous first date) than originally understood.
That said, despite some engaging scenes, Blended often disrupts empathetic drama with standard Sandler bits. The approach plays to fans of the comedy actor but holds the film back from expanding its reach - as many moviegoers who connect to the "blended" family narrative will (often) be jolted out of a touching encounter for a dumb-downed cry for laughs. For example, and at the risk of spoiling a half-baked joke, a key turning point in the story sees Lauren tucking the Friedman girls in for the night, lulling the littlest one to sleep with a lullaby, before stepping outside their tent - where Jim is waiting to scare her, shouting at the top of his lungs, with no regard for the situation (or his children's sleep).
Unsurprisingly, Barrymore is less cartoonish and while Lauren is injected into plenty of ridiculous scenarios, the actress finds a good-natured balance between farce and sentiment. The same can be said for the cast of children - some of which are given more to do than others. The Friedman girls are charged with providing opportunities to bridge the families (and parents) with a heavy emphasis on the oldest, Hilary (Bella Thorne), and the youngest, Lou (Alyvia Alyn Lind) - though, in spite of limited screen time, middle child Espn (Emma Fuhrmann) delivers the strongest individual character arc. The Reynolds boys get "blending" moments of their own but Brendan (Braxton Beckham) and Tyler (Kyle Red Silverstein) are primarily relegated to over-the-top comic relief.
Like most Happy Madison productions, Blended features a number of cameos and recognizable faces in supporting roles - with Shaquille O'Neal, Terry Crews, Joel McHale, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Jessica Lowe, Kevin Nealon, and ESPN personality Dan Patrick providing some of the film's biggest laughs - and, on occasion, a little good will.
Longtime Sandler fans probably won't be hung up when Coraci takes the low road to an easy joke but Blended isn't satisfied with typical slap-happy Sandler film territory either. The movie spends a lot of time venturing to develop a meaningful relationship between the two families and, at times, the filmmakers actually brush against a deeper (not to mention smarter) story - but ultimately fail to break free of their stock dramedy formula. Blended carries a wider appeal than many recent Sandler efforts with relatable modern family dynamics and a likable supporting cast but, enslaved to common-denominator humor, the film falls short of the dramedy sweet spot and offers little more than a chalky blend of undercooked drama and eye-rolling jokes.
Blended runs 117 minutes and is Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content, and language. Now playing in theaters.
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