by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)
You know, every point this year where I think that we have hit the bottom in regards to film releases, I keep getting proven wrong. First, there was A New York Winter’s Tale back in February, still one of the worst films I have ever seen (incidentally) and a total failure in all basic aspects of moviemaking. I was certain that we would not see anything close to its level for the rest of the year. March quickly put pay to that line of thinking with 300: Rise of an Empire which gained points for at least passing basic filmmaking standards but immediately lost all of those points for being a hateful piece of misogynistic tripe. The tail-end of April presented, for my consideration, Ava-Tarzan, quite possibly the worst feature-length animated film to see the light of day since 2006. And now, as May gives way to June, we have Blended.
Folks, I do not like having to re-evaluate what the worst film of the year is every month. Not, of course, so that I have a headline grabbing phrase to parade my review around with when the time comes (papa don’t play that way), but because I don’t like having to subject myself to films that keep striving for new levels of badness. It’s like they’re in competition with one another. “I’ll see your total failure at basic filmmaking conventions and raise you blacked-up actors and an attitude to women not unlike that of a psychopathic thirteen year-old!” Only there are no winners in their contest, and we, the film-going audience, but mostly just me because I don’t have a choice in subjecting myself to these avant-garde attempts at flinging poo onto a film reel and releasing the result, suffer due to their petty game of one-ups-man-ship.
Blended is a comedy made by statisticians and accountants. It is a comedy made by people who have not got the first clue of how to tell a joke but have seen far more talented people make a lot of money telling jokes, and so decided to make their own comedy purely to get at that money. Of course, being statisticians and accountants, this comes with the built-in handicap of nobody involved knowing how to tell a joke. But such an issue does not stop them from their dream of making loadsamoney as they have hatched a cunning plan. Instead of coming up with jokes, with set-ups and punchlines and wit and insight and originality and all of those things that make up good jokes and which allow things that would otherwise cross lines of good taste pass by unscathed, they would instead simply present people with concepts that are supposedly inherently amusing and ask you to laugh at them. Who cares if you only laughed at them in other films because they had actual craft in their construction? Their graphs and pie charts and glances at two minute red-band trailers on YouTube show that you laughed at these topics in other films so, mathematics dictates, you will laugh here too and their film won’t offend anyone at all!
I’m just going to go straight for the jugular here, I think that Blended is racist. Nowhere is this more apparent than with Terry Crews’ “character” (for the fully intended effect, I want you to imagine that those air quotes are as tall as a New York skyscraper) whose entire character can be summed up as “look at the funny black man with the weird voice and the crazy eyes sing the word blended over and over again!” He comes with a back-up crew of about seven other people who look exactly like him and have the exact job description. Crews wanders about the screen nearly always leaning forward, eyes looking like they’re ready to pop out of his skull, voice sounding like a drunk Oxford senior’s party impression of what he thinks ‘the blacks’ sound like, and the joke is the same every time. “Laugh at this walking black stereotype!” There’s no nuance, nothing profound, no grand subversion. Just, “Laugh at this walking black stereotype!” It’s like a minstrel show periodically gate-crashes the rest of the film; I was waiting for Joel McHale (who appears in two scenes playing the total douche role he did far better in Ted two years ago) to show up covered in black shoe-polish to seal the sorry mess.
AND IT’S A JOKE THEY KEEP COMING BACK TO! Again and again and again with no change in pacing or tone or content, until the realisation set in that this racist stereotype is something that everyone involved in the film thinks is legitimately funny. Not ironically funny, not a set-up for a takedown of such outdated and offensive stereotypes. No, it’s something that is supposedly just hilarious because “Laugh at this walking black stereotype!” The other black characters (I count three with names) aren’t anywhere near as pronounced in their racist caricatures but the joke is still nearly always “Look at the black man talking with the funny voice!” Well, except for Shaquille O’Neal. He turns up for two scenes, for some reason, and his joke is that a man of his size and physicality cries over-dramatically at something. I’ll let you decide if that’s a real step up or not.
I’m sorry, I thought we were past this? I thought that we’d all come to the realisation that this kind of shit does not fly anymore? That it was outdated and offensive? That we’d actually have to work to get laughs from our characters of colour now by writing actual characters and actual jokes? Say what you want about Ride Along but that at least tried writing actual characters and actual jokes for those characters, instead of going, “Laugh at this walking black stereotype saying words that sound different coming from his funny voice!” Yet, every time Terry Crews came on screen, the audience in my screening were giggling and guffawing as if his every sequence was a classic Malcolm Tucker tirade. I don’t get it. How can these people not tell the difference between a clever subversion of racist stereotypes with an effective payoff (which this is not) and an uncomfortable one-note stereotype that has no substance to the joke besides the fact that he’s a walking black stereotype (which this is)?
Sorry, sorry. I’m allowing my own moral and social beliefs to infect my judgement of a film again. My bad. I should leave the racism point behind and move on to my next point which is that Blended is sexist. Question: are you a girl who dresses in a decidedly unfeminine manner? Congratulations! Blended thinks you’re a man or a lesbian or someone who is willingly holding themselves back from love and happiness and acceptance by society, and it won’t stop letting you know that for the whole film by constantly making fun of people who look like you and using jokes based around literally those same points I just mentioned! I dread to think of how more sensitive people who happen to choose to style and dress themselves in an unconventionally unfeminine way will react to the constant scorn and mockery the film throws their way. The film hints towards revealing that Jim (Adam Sandler) is practically forcing his daughters into dressing this way and participating in such a masculine lifestyle because he’s living through them or something, but nope. Lauren (Drew Barrymore) practically swoops on in and unlocks Hilary’s (Bella Thorne) femininity and voila! She’s actually totally gorgeous and so much happier now that she’s an actual woman and oh my gods typing these words are making me realise just how truly horrible the whole thing is.
In fact, quick sidebar: this film’s usage and treatment of Bella Thorne worries me. For one, there are the aforementioned “Oh, I’m sorry, I thought you looked like a guy” jabs which are constant, demeaning and never once deviate from exactly what I just typed. For two, and much more problematic, I got the vibe that we, the entire audience, are supposed to find Bella Thorne super-hot. She was 15 at the time of filming and her character in the film is 15, too. Yet her second scene (no prizes for guessing what the first was) involves her in a bra in front of the mirror, sticking out her apparently non-existent chest for the camera and lamenting her apparent lack of breasts. It feels creepy but maybe I could let it slide on the basis that the camera (to my recollection) does not focus totally on her chest and the fact that if this was a coming-of-age drama, or something, I’d probably not get that interpretation from the scene.
What I cannot excuse is later on, when she makes her grand womanly-charms-embracing re-entrance and the camera introduces her in the same way that other films introduce their much older female stars when they want to get across how good they look. You know the way: camera pans up in slow-motion from their legs all the way up the body so that the last part revealed to you is their face because the face is always the least important part of a woman, apparently. Back it with appropriately sexy music (which the scene does eventually, in a gag that I still do not understand), cross-cut to other characters’ stunned reactions and maybe blow a little gust from the wind machine in their direction and watch the number of people getting a visit from Chris Hanson shoot through the roof. Now, you may sit there and claim that my mind chose to go there and that I’m the pervert and paedophile. I would retort by noting that I got that interpretation from the scene because the scene employed the conventions that appear in such a sequence and if it didn’t want that interpretation, it should not have filmed it in such a way.
Also, this is a film that has a joke involving a teenage boy sexually harassing a girl who appears to be maybe three years older than him in the finale, and you’re supposed to not be offended and even find it charming because you’ve already spent 110 minutes in this creep’s presence so it’s acceptable, I guess. Try telling me that I’m the one who is off-base about this film’s intentions. Go on, I’m waiting.
Anyway, where was I? Oh, yeah, Blended’s casual sexism. So, Jim is an asshat. A total, barely likeable asshat, much like all of Adam Sandler’s characters. This is a character who named his child Espn after… you know what, I’m going to let you figure that one out. He’s rude, boorish, demands fist bumps after every supposedly cool thing he ever does and, somehow, he is still a better person than Lauren is. Lauren, you see, is often exactly like Jim (minus the fist bumps, thanks the Maker) but she always happens to cross the line whenever her and Jim are in a verbal sparring match. She’s also shown to be a terrible mother, whose kids are a future sex offender/serial perverted murderer and a kid who may or may not have ADHD and who keeps getting his hand banged really hard on walls by Lauren because child violence is hi-larious? Jim’s daughters, meanwhile, are a little one who just says the darndest things, the middle child who still talks to her mom (who died of cancer years ago, which the film likes to bring up for drama with Jim, and only Jim, whenever it gets the chance) and whose grief is used near-exclusively for “look at that weirdo” comedy, and the tomboy we’ve already discussed (also it’d be remiss of me not to mention an excruciatingly awful scene in which Hilary beats a boy in basketball and, when the boy is informed that she’s a girl, Terry Crews’ Minstrel Society jumps in out of nowhere to re-enforce traditional gender values with a song about how embarrassing it is to be beaten by a girl at a sport).
As for the other women in the film who are on screen for more than 10 seconds; we have a babysitter who is the target of sexual obsession by the older of Lauren’s two sons, Lauren’s alleged best friend who is shown to be a completely selfish, inconsiderate and repulsive human being at all times, an air-headed trophy wife the group stumble across on the Africa trip and whose entire character involves speaking like a bad Kristin Chenoweth impersonator and shaking her cleavage for the camera, and a group massage leader who has no character except for her poor British accent. “Now, hold up, Callum!” you’re probably going. “The film has dreadful male characters, as well! It’s equal opportunities poor treatment!” True, but I have two things I want to note to you. The first is that, with the exception of two hecklers at a child’s baseball game and that Joel McHale cameo and I guess Lauren’s children, these are mainly black people. Jim’s an asshat, but the film constantly tries to put him in a likeable light, more so than it does Lauren, anyway, so The White Guy is the least terrible person in the film. The second is this fact: the worst physical humour that befalls Jim is that he is flung from an ostrich into a drinking trough. The worst physical humour that befalls Lauren is that she is nearly speared in her vagina by a rhino that she avoids by spreading her legs like one does when they’re gearing up for sex.
Sorry, sorry. I appear to have let my personal moral and social beliefs overtake this film review. Again. It’s the beginning of A4 page 4, now, and you want to know the reasons why I hate Blended that can’t be traced back to my own personal hang-ups. OK, then. Sandler and Barrymore have no chemistry, which is especially surprising since they’ve already done this twice before. Every child actor or actress in this is appalling, pulling off that overly stagey “LOOK AT MY ACTING I AM ACTING SO HARD” thing that all terrible child actors and actresses do. It is atrociously paced, withholding the ending long past the point it should appear in order to artificially pump up the run-time to two hours. It looks extremely cheap, pretty much all of the animals are CG and not in the slightest bit convincing. Its tone, particularly in that unnecessarily long final 20 – 30 minutes, is whiplash inducing whenever it brings up the whole “Jim’s first wife died of cancer” thing. It practically stops at several points and becomes a tourist destination ad for South Africa. It thinks that the height of comedy is having a shot of two CG rhinos doing each other like dogs.
Have you got enough yet or do you need me to go on?
Look, I wouldn’t make such a big stink out of this if there were jokes here. I’m not infallible, I can acknowledge that something’s offensive but still find it funny. If the joke’s good enough, I will laugh at it and that’s a guarantee. But Blended has no jokes. Again, this is a film that thinks that the concept of sexual harassment is a funny enough gag to put at the end of your film, that having a teenage boy try to claim that their mother can do better than somebody like Jim because “she’s hot” is such a funny and messed up thing that it should run that joke into the ground at every opportunity, that a grown man poorly phrasing his question about what tampon is best for his teenage daughter is just raucous material, and that foreign black people are automatically hilarious because stereotypes. These are not jokes, these are carnival side-show attractions brought out for your amusement without any effort made in the department of them being worthy of your amusement. It’s just “Black people: laugh! Women who look like men: laugh! Drew Barrymore may get impaled through her vagina by a rhino: laugh!” So when this is all the film can be bothered to come up with, hell yeah, I’m going to fixate on the troublesome undertones it ends up peddling! There’s nothing to distract me from them, because the jokes aren’t funny, so why wouldn’t I find them a legitimate problem?
I honestly didn’t think that Adam Sandler and his Happy Madison production company had any lower to go after they turned statutory rape into a light-hearted set-up for a bawdy comedy. But, much like my continuing belief that 2014 can’t keep churning out even worse films, it turns out I was proven wrong. Blended is lazy, cynical filmmaking; the kind of film that’s slapped together with no effort or talent and shunted out of the door on the belief that the audience will turn up to anything with a big star’s name on it. And I think that’s why this trash angers me so. That it’s not even trying to be offensive, it’s not trying to push any boundaries of taste for comedic effect or anything. It wasn’t setting out to be racist and sexist or anything like that, it just turned out that way because it lazily tried to present things that it thought were inherently funny with no effort towards making them funny and no effort put into thinking of the implications of not adding jokes to these supposedly inherently funny concepts. This is trash, trash of the lowest order. I do, however, hesitate to say that 2014 can’t bottom out any further, because I don’t want to jinx anything. I do not want to experience a film worse than Blended in a cinema in 2014. Please.
I did not like it.