In the new film Funny People, comedian Adam Sandler plays an actor remarkably similar to, well, Adam Sandler. His character, George Simmons, is a former stand-up comic who's become obscenely wealthy and famous through a series of patently terrible films with titles like Merman and Dog's Best Friend (Erik Davis wrote about these movies-within-the-movie and shared clips -- check it out here). Now a little older and trying to beat a possibly fatal medical condition, Simmons takes a new look at his life -- including the crappy but wildly popular movies that made him a star.

The fake movies are truly awful. But not any worse than some of abysmal actual movies made by Sandler himself, like Little Nicky, Eight Crazy Nights, Mr. Deeds, You Don't Mess with the Zohan, etc. Since the character is so baldly modeled on Sandler, one can't help but wonder what he thinks about the parodies that he helped to create, to make fun of his own career.



Funny People director Judd Apatow and Sandler are longtime friends. They were roommates before Sandler became famous, and the film even starts with an old video that Apatow shot in 1991 of Sandler making a crank call to a deli. Obviously, the line between Simmons and Sandler is deliberately blurred, and the audience is supposed to recognize that the bad movies George Simmons makes are a reference to many of the bad movies that Sandler makes. But how in on the joke is Sandler?

Given the context and his participation, it's impossible that Sandler was oblivious. So that leaves two options: Either he thinks his movies -- movies that, for the most part, he developed, co-wrote, and produced -- are underrated, and that the parodies are spoofing the critical perception of his work, not the actual quality, or he knows that the movies are crap, and has no trouble making fun of them.

If it's the first, then the man lives in a sadly sheltered world of yes-men and toadies, and lacks the critical faculties to judge quality cinema. But it's more likely the second -- that he knows that he makes bad movies and doesn't care. And that, in its own way, is even worse.

Because even knowing that they're bad, Adam Sandler keeps making really crappy movies. Zohan aside, he usually doesn't star in them anymore, distancing himself as a star from the stinkiness of the product. His production company is responsible for the Deuce Bigalow movies, Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Grandma's Boy, and The Benchwarmers, among others, and even though he's not the star, he's the one getting them made, and hiring his pals to write and direct them. If Sandler knows that they're crap -- and these parodies would indicate that he does -- then he's something worse than a sheltered star with no taste. He's a producer who cold-bloodedly churns out dreck aimed at the lowest common denominator simply to make bucketloads of cash, and then mocks his own movies to make himself look above it all.

Then again, maybe he really doesn't know. It's notable that as bad as George Simmons' movies are, the character doesn't ever disavow them entirely, and even considers making Merman 2. And in real life, Sandler's movie factory has a number of dumb comedies in various stages of production, including Grownups, written by Little Nicky/Mr. Deeds scribe Tim Herlihy, and helmed by Zohan/Benchwarmers director Dennis Dugan.

But it's difficult, if not impossible, to believe that Sandler could have reached the level of success that he has and be that clueless, which makes his performance in Funny People both disingenuous and calculated. Sandler gets to play a semi-dramatic version of himself who regrets the mistakes he's made, giving us the impression that he's matured and grown as both a performer and as a person. Meanwhile, in real life he keeps making the same lousy crap as always, and raking in the money.

It's all sort of brilliant, really. And sort of horrible.