Maturity isn’t so much a point in life as it is a state of mind—one that can change faster than a 13-year-old’s Facebook status. Case in point: Lenny Feder.
Lenny and his four best childhood chums—former teammates on a pipsqueak championship basketball team—are, technically, all grown up. They’ve got drivers’ licenses, mortgages and receding hairlines. Some have jobs. Most have families. All have gone their separate ways.
But when their old coach dies and the flabby five reunite to toss his ashes to the wind, they find that they can slip in and out of childhood as if it were a pair of well-worn jeans. So for a weekend, they trade in their cell phones for cup phones, the rat race for waterslides and teach their children that there’s more to life than a high score on a video game.
In the process, they learn some valuable lessons themselves: that their wives are pretty nifty, that their children are pretty awesome and that a game called “arrow roulette” is pretty dumb.
Of course, they also urinate in swimming pools, leer at their friends’ daughters and rip on each other endlessly. You didn’t expect Adam Sandler to grow up all at once, did you?
Grown Ups is loaded with behavior that real grown-ups would be well-advised to avoid. That said, there’s more heart here than you might expect.
When the five friends arrive at the funeral, their lives are in various states of disarray. Lenny, a successful Hollywood agent, finds that his kids are turning into pampered freaks, unable to drink water unless it’s imported from Norway or pull themselves away from their violent video games. Eric’s eldest daughter throws fits if someone asks her to eat cake with a fork, and his 4-year-old son is still suckling from his mother’s breast. Kurt is an unappreciated househusband, it’s not clear if Rob’s married to a woman or just a fetish, and Marcus—unfettered by anything but casual sex and bottles of booze—never even tried to stop being an adolescent.
To say these old chums all have life-changing experiences during their time together is, perhaps, too kind. But for Lenny, the statement isn’t too far off. He forces his sons to punt their cell phones and put away their screen games so he can teach them the simple joys of skipping rocks and barreling down waterslides. He starts acting, in short, like a dad—and a pretty decent one at that.
At the end of the movie, Lenny and his son take on Dickie Bailey (one of Lenny’s childhood adversaries) and his boy in a game of basketball. Lenny—the rich, successful agent—finds himself in position to make the winning shot—but he doesn’t. He purposely misses, opening the door for put-upon, blue-collar Dickie to take the match. Lenny’s son absorbs the loss philosophically—a remarkable turnaround from the spoiled brat we initially meet—saying he’ll practice more at home so they can win the rematch.
When Lenny’s wife asks him why he missed the shot, Lenny says, “The Baileys needed to learn how to win every once in a while. And the Feders needed to learn how to lose.”
Other families draw benefit from their time together, too. Eric’s son starts drinking milk from a carton. Kurt patches things up with his wife. And all of them build up their long-term friendships that may last the rest of their lives.
Lenny’s very young daughter crashes his SUV while trying to figure out how to find heaven on its navigation service. (She’s heard that “Coach Buzzer went to heaven.”) Rob says that Buzzer is coaching “heaven’s team now.” In the closing credits, Adam Sandler sings a song about his own father up in heaven—suggesting that he’s having sex with Marilyn Monroe.
Here’s where we get to some of that “behavior real grown-ups would be well advised to avoid” part. Grown Ups is absolutely loaded with double entendres and sleazy allusions. Rob married a much older woman named Gloria, and audiences are therefore treated to a series of gags related to their “mismatched” love life. They touch tongues and make comments about their S&M-tinged bedroom activities. Audiences hear them shout a bit during an intimate moment. Other characters joke about it.
Rob also fathered (with previous wives) two beautiful daughters, now adults, who come for a visit. Both wear short shorts and bikinis, becoming the object of leering fascination for the movie’s males—adults and children alike. Marcus openly flirts with them. (Rob becomes furious when he thinks Marcus slept with one.)
Marcus talks about his many sexual escapades, sometimes graphically. The first time we meet the guy, he’s sharing his bed with a woman. (All but her leg is out of view.) Nevertheless, giggles erupt over whether Marcus is gay. Audiences see part of his unclad rear.
The men’s wives go to a water park and flirt with a muscular fellow from Saskatoon, Canada—with Eric’s wife using her milk-engorged breasts to entice him. (Then they laugh him away, making fun of his high-pitched voice.) Several women wear revealing swimsuits and outfits.
Lenny’s son mentions that they show “boobies” on Italian television. Kurt’s wife briefly thinks that Kurt has a thing for Lenny’s nanny.
A visual gag implies that Marcus unknowingly committed a bestial sex act.
The fivesome re-create a game they used to play called “arrow roulette,” where they fire an arrow straight up into the air and see who holds out the longest before fleeing. Rob wins—and his “reward” is the arrow skewering his foot. Rob later kicks Marcus in the groin twice with his bad foot, causing both extreme pain.
Lenny slaps Rob across the face with dehydrated bananas and bags of bacon. Eric, while swinging on a rope, hits a tree, falls down the side of a hill and lands on a bird (which survives, thanks in part to being fed breast milk). A man riding a zip line crashes into the side of a building. We later see him in a full-body cast, and an arrow punctures his foot—another victim of arrow roulette.
Lenny’s children play a violent video game in which the object seems to be to kill cruise ship passengers. Blood spatters across the screen, and when one of the boys tips a grandmother over the railing, he gets extra points.
Two s-words—and children also say the s-word stand-in “shiznit.” One f-word is bleeped during the credits. It’s also alluded to with the acronym “MILF” and the smashed together crudity “fugly.” There are several uses each of “a‑‑,” “h‑‑‑,” “d‑‑n,” “d‑‑k” and “p‑‑‑.” God’s name is misused more than 20 times.
Most everyone is shown drinking beer. Marcus gets drunk. He downs a series of shots and, when the rest of the crew are slow-dancing with their wives, he literally embraces a bottle of beer. He passes out on a couch.
Marcus reminisces about how they all used to get “wasted.” And when the kids begin to ask what “wasted” is, Lenny lies that it has something to do with eating a lot of ice cream. So, of course, all the children say they want to get wasted too.
One of the friends’ fathers is shown, in flashback mode, drunk at a basketball dinner. “We’re here to celebrate the kids’ shots, not your shots,” the coach says.
Lenny and the gang seem to think that the most sincere way to show one’s affection is through insult, and nearly everyone fires and receives a ton of ’em. Some are good-natured enough, but many feel downright mean: Jokes about Gloria’s age get particularly tiresome, as do the snickers during Rob’s rendition of “Ave Maria” at the funeral.
Jokes about passing gas, “pooping” and “peeing” abound. It’s revealed that all five men urinate in a pool, humiliating their children. Eric, while relieving himself in a lake, sprays Marcus. The camera gets a kick out of showing folks’ wedgies after they hurtle down a waterslide. Marcus falls face-first into a cow patty.
Children trick Kurt’s mother-in-law—a large woman who comes under attack for her toe bunions and flatulence—into stepping under a fountain of water. For her part, she taunts Kurt with emasculating remarks. As a joke, Lenny sticks a finger into Rob’s behind.
Eric’s 4-year-old asks if he can try Lenny’s wife’s milk. Eric’s wife accidentally squirts milk on Kurt’s wife.
Lenny lies. Fathers sneak their children onto a ride at the water park, cutting in front of everyone else.
Grown Ups is, at its core, about traditional family values. It embraces commitment, celebrates family and encourages moviegoers to never take the beautiful things in their lives—their spouses, their children, their friendships—for granted. There are lots of comedies that insist it’s horrible to grow up; this one tells us that growing up is not just inevitable, but desirable—as long as you keep a sense of childlike wonder and fun about you.
But it gets childlike and childish confused. Lenny and the rest may have grown up, but they’ve never really grown out of their fascination with frat-boy humor and schoolyard taunting. And that means this is largely an artless and foul film filled with sexual commentary and fart jokes.
Maybe the thing that bothered me the most was the endless stream of meanspirited takedowns. Lenny and his friends mock each other and those around them for being too old, too ugly, too fat, too thin, too single, too married and too sincere along with a variety of other things they’ve determine are just too … something. And after sitting through joke after joke about everything from lazy eyes to squeaky voices to full-body casts, I was feeling pretty uncomfortable, actually. It felt more like overgrown schoolyard bullies at work than a cadre of middle-aged kids at heart at play.
Grown Ups has more maturity than I expected. But not nearly as much as I’d hoped.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.