Talent manager Sandy Wexler (a squeaky, high-voiced Adam Sandler) thinks he’s discovered the next big singing sensation. “Who else have you managed,” the singer’s concerned father (Aaron Neville) asks the self-proclaimed King of Hollywood. “Ever hear of Indiana Jones,” Sandy replies. “You work with Harrison Ford?” “No, but I do represent the guy who got his heart pulled out of his chest in the Temple of Doom.”
And what’s great about the titular character of this new Netflix original movie, Sandy Wexler, is just as proud of managing the guy whose chest was pulled out as he would be had he managed Harrison Ford. Sandy’s revolves around ensuring his clients happiness. He truly loves them and whole heartedly believes each will achieve stardom one day. He brags he manages the next Grace Kelly; her most notable work was a woman’s hygiene commercial. Hey, everybody’s gotta start somewhere.
But with all that wishful thinking, as well as sloppy eating habits, an annoying laugh, and a compulsive lying inclination, the film has a sincere affection for its title character. An eclectic variety of Hollywood celebrities like Chris Rock, Henry Winkler, Penn Jillette, Jewel, Vanilla Ice, George Wendt, Gary Dell’Aate and both Conan O’Brien and Jay Leno play themselves framing the film’s plot (this is still a Sandler movie, after all). The movie’s demeanor displays a sincere affection for the kind-hearted Sandy Wexler, who’s actually based on a real Hollywood talent manager Sandy Wernick. Not surprisingly, Wernick manages Adam Sandler (who plays Sandy Wexler, also having co-written, co-produced the film) as well as many of the celebrity cameos.
Sandy Wexler is a bit of a goofball who often dishes out bad advice (“Blockbuster, now that’s a smart move,” he says, “Blockbuster is here to stay.”), but he’s not a total dummy. He can spot performers capable of true stardom. The film is set squarely in Los Angeles in the early 1990’s, and Sandy has already discovered one famous star (who shall go unnamed). But Sandy and that client have long parted ways, though our hapless talent manager still represents an odd array of performers, which include a second-rate ventriloquist (Kevin James) and an accident-prone stuntman (Nick Swartzman).
One day, Sandy’s luck seems to take a turn for the better. At Magic Mountain, he finds a soon-to-be star singer acting in a children’s play in the form of Courtney Clarke (Jennifer Hudson). Sandy immediately recognizes her potential – despite the duck costume – and quickly persuades her to let him manage her. He helps train her and by a lucky string of events she becomes a top selling artist. But showbiz can lead to a slippery slope, especially when the talent manager and client might have romantic inclinations toward each other.
Sandler and Hudson have nice chemistry together, and genuinely seem to like each other as characters, not as necessity to the plot. The movie takes it’s time developing the romantic angle and wisely doesn’t begin the romantic attraction as soon as Sandy meets Courtney. They professionally and gradually start to fall in love, which makes the relationship all the more real. We see this build over hilarious scenes during the process of Courtney becoming a star. Not only do these moments develop the characters, but they also display great insight on the innerworkings of Hollywood. In many ways, it comes off more like a cartoonish Sandler generation rendition of Albert Brook’s masterpiece Modern Romance.
One thing I loved about this movie is that each scene had a specific and not overstated element of goofiness which acted like very sweet icing on the cake. Sandy lives in a pool house on a giant Beverly Hills estate; the real owner, letting Sandy squat there, has a strict rule never allowing anyone to step in the giant, alluring swimming pool. So when Sandy is having a romantic evening with Courtney Clarke (Jennifer Hudson) by the forbidden pool, they sit in chairs dipping their feet in a plastic kiddie pool. Never is the kiddie pool mentioned, but its appearance heightens the hilarious dialogue enough to make a good laugh a belly laugh. It’s just little details like that that make this movie work.
At the end of the day, Sandy Wexler is a goofy comedy that handles itself well and seems proud of the message its sharing with us. It’s interesting to imagine this material presented as cinematically ambitious, like Boogie Nights. But this approach works, and Sandy Wexler is a strong comedy with well-structured comedic scenes, keenly selected lines, and a strong attention towards humorous detail. Regardless of how its perceived by this longtime fans and critics, I’m curious if Sandler’s future films will begin to more closely resemble the mastery of George Roy Hill’s later comedies. Personally, I’m excited to see how things play out as this stage in Sandler’s career progresses.