In a bit of a statistical anomaly, The Week Of is that modest gem which gets enough right in spite of its familiarity and well-known Adam Sandler tropes. A wedding comedy is nothing new. (Netflix did just give us Naked last fall.) But this is one with neatly directed screwball tendencies. It’s funny, and earnest, and silly, and even a little bit touching. The Week Of balances its sense of comic escalation with newer, more naturalistic moves for Sandler. Barely, but it does. Sure, there’s the usual screeching and shtickiness and product placement, but the flick is also surprisingly easy-going, capturing the nervous energy that comes with weddings.
The pitch is napkin-slim enough: two wildly different fathers must put aside their differences during a crazy week leading up to their kids’ wedding. How wacky. Call Nancy Meyers! But there’s more, thankfully.
Sandler is Kenny, a Long Island contractor. He’s back to basics, as a lower-class schmuck desperate to do the right thing. Stuffed in his small suburban hut with his family, Sandler warbles words, poorly feigning a smile as the stress gets to him. But his outbursts are a little less edgy than usual, save for the standard marital spats with his wife Debbie (Rachel Dratch, a welcome face after seemingly being MIA since SNL). He’s just trying to keep it together as much as he can, because he wants his daughter Sarah (Allison Strong) to have a good-enough wedding.
“Ah, Grapes of Wrath, great choice, gotta read the book though!” he’ll say to his son watching TV, as he’s rushing out the door to pitch a client – only after he picks up his 87-year-old uncle. Part neurotic, part buffoon, part father-knows-best, Sandler works his better comic modes this time around. He puts in the work, gets flustered, and you wind up rooting for him and his kid’s marriage. This isn’t the Sandler of the past decade, cruising through mansions and expensive locales with shameful privilege.
Then there’s Kirby (Chris Rock), a hyper-elite, embarrassingly rich doctor and the father of Tyler (Roland Buck III). Tyler’s marrying Allison, and Kirby’s on the outskirts of the story for a little bit, as Kenny wants to take care of everything, the tradition for fathers of brides. When Kirby arrives and stares in disbelief at the growing family circus that is Tyler’s coming wedding, Rock is the straight man, the butt of jokes, and even a deus ex machina when Kenny’s truly in a pinch. Kirby’s aloof, divorced, and resourceful. But to call Kirby a snob would be wrong; he’s respectful, albeit understandably skeptical of what Kenny can actually do. But Rock is game, and who wouldn’t want to play a billionaire doctor with a Manhattan penthouse and an ivory piano?
Now that we’ve established the two foundations on which The Week Of is built, you could very well figure out what happens next. Tyler and Allison are stressed. The Quality Lodge that Kenny rents for everyone becomes a leaky-ceiling nightmare, sending every last family member into Kenny’s home on inflatable mattresses, with a half-dozen people sleeping in any room at any given time. Black and white families collide. Allison’s bridesmaids don’t blend. There’s a dirty old uncle. The easily agitated nephew. The silent optometrist cousin. The sassy granny. Kirby’s demure ex-wife. The creepy neighbor boy with eyes for Kenny’s family. A loud German Shepherd. My Big Fat Sandler Wedding, indeed.
Robert Smigel, the late-night poobah (Saturday Night Live, Late Night With Conan O’Brien, and the creator of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog) might be the man to thank, because he nails down the honest and the zany stuff alike in his feature directorial debut. The humidifier falling on a man’s head. The cutaway to an overweight Jersey-type crying at the sight of a veteran. The use of bats to get revenge. And there’s some nice wedding stuff in there, promise! Smigel turns out to be a calm hand behind the camera, and what a breath of fresh air he offers from the repetitive, blunt moves of Dennis Dugan or Frank Coraci. Smigel, in perhaps his smartest move, respects his viewers with his patient form and blend of big and little jokes. Smigel directs with casual bemusement, medium shots, handheld photography, and shabby production values. It’s not the usual glossy Sandler vehicle.
Working off a script co-authored by Sandler, Smigel not only finds little truths in weddings – old friends fighting with new friends, the burdens of family, the way things sometimes miraculously work against all odds – but he finds opportunities for big gags as well. Ever see a wedding dance floor with a garbage can collecting water from the ceiling? It’s both sad and surreally funny. The way he lets Dratch ask obnoxious medical questions of Kirby is both annoying and endearing. A sudden funeral (we won’t say who for) makes for both great family narrative building, and an excuse to use a dead body as a sound gag when the pallbearer slips (“Ya gotta keep it level, ya morons!”). To watch Sandler break it to Tyler’s family that New York City is far away from Long Island (“it’s an hour twenty from the city. Three hours with traffic”) is equally mortifying and hilarious. The Week Of represents Smigel’s first try, and he’s already nailed his tone with a blend of deadpan and broad comedy.
Maybe it’s hype, maybe there’s something unexpected to it, but if Sandler, now 52, were to ride out his career with more loosely-styled comedies under Smigel, we’d all be better off for it. There’s nothing wrong with Al Pacino shilling Dunkin’ Donuts in Jack and Jill as a why-not joke for Sandler. But there’s something purer about simply putting Adam Sandler in tight spots and weird situations, and Smigel – were he to become a Happy Madison contract director for the star – could be a guy that brings out the best in Sandler.
Think of it like this: The Week Of is the wedding you forgot you were invited to, weren’t all that stoked to attend, then wound up loving anyway because you had such a surprisingly good time.