i still think Spanglish was underrated

Via Metafilter, I found this article in the New York Times: “Adam Sandler Still Refuses to Grow Up, and So Do Most Hollywood Comedies.” Here’s an excerpt:

The male rejection of adulthood is now the dominant attitude in Hollywood comedy, even (or perhaps especially) in movies whose sexual frankness makes them officially unsuitable for children. Occasionally you will see a functioning if beleaguered dad, usually a widower, like Steve Carell’s character in “Dan in Real Life.” And sometimes, as in “Little Miss Sunshine,” a coeducational, multigenerational ensemble will carry the therapeutic and satirical burdens of the genre.

But far more often the center of attention will be a guy, his buddies and his toys. He will, most of the time, be nudged toward responsibility, forgiven for his quirks and nurtured in his needs and neuroses by a woman who represents an ideal amalgam of supermodel and mom.

A.O. Scott calls Adam Sandler an “overgrown man-child,” which naturally reminded me of the fact that I place most of the movies Scott is referring to in what I call “the man-child genre.” As in, “After seeing Old School, I am forever done with the man-child genre.” Or, “I didn’t like Anchorman. And I keep forgetting how much I hate the man-child genre.” For me, the man-child genre includes most movies starring Adam Sandler and Will Ferrell, as well as any Judd Apatow film that isn’t The 40-Year-Old Virgin.

But a few Metafilter users took exception to the characterization of some men as men-children:

Besides vaguely mentioning “duty and responsibility”, this article never really defines what it means to be grown up or adult. Clearly these characters can function in society – with the exception of Billy Madison, they usually have jobs and active social lives and pay their own way – so what is it that they lack, precisely?


Since the previous concept of male adulthood pretty much involved working yourself to death for the benefit of everyone else, I’m not surprised that people are running away from it now that it’s socially acceptable.


For all the complaints that men have become man children gripped by consumerism, the alternative exhorted for them is to go have a wife and kids, and a house. The traditional American dream is a bill of goods in and of itself, one that was advertised on TV, in the pulpit, in the movies. For many, the sense of security and purpose was false. The secure job of yesteryear ended with a layoff, the security of marriage ended with a divorce, and the house….

When the previous situation no longer offers the benefits that it traditionally did, why is it a surprise that it is met with rejection?

Interesting. If this is really true–if the men in these movies are considered men-children solely by virtue of the fact that they lack spouses and offspring–then I’ve been remiss in my labeling. Which is interesting because I myself lack a lot of the things that are supposed to make one an “adult”: a husband, children, and a house. Does that make me a woman-child? I don’t think so. I lack these things on purpose; they’re not what I want out of life right now, and I resent any implication that I’m deficient because of that.

But I do still see the characters in those movies as man-children. While it’s fine with me that they don’t have the stereotypical signs of “maturity” like spouses or kids or houses, they have an emotional immaturity that I think is really what turns me off. That, and the man-child movies always manage to tap into my revulsion toward so-called dick and fart jokes, which I see as immature even if they aren’t always.

This Mefi user taps into another one of my pet issues:

I think throwing in “not having kids” as a sign of not achieving adulthood is a canard that prevents the more serious underlying issue from getting addressed.

There’s an instant gratification impulse that fuels consumerism and is a symptom of an extended adolescence. It leads most people to spend money they don’t have on things they don’t need. As resources become scarcer though (especially oil and in turn plastic), this impulse is going to meet a very hard brick wall.

10 thoughts on “i still think Spanglish was underrated

  1. I’m also annoyed by the man-child genre, though often I find myself involuntarily laughing. Then getting uncomfortable and hoping no one noticed. I don’t see the man-child genre (or archetype) being defined by the social position or possessions of the character. I see it as being defined by a main character with three attributes:

    1. Underdeveloped social skills. Specifically empathy, theory of mind and ability to negotiate/compromise. Often the resolution of the movie is brought about by the main character discovering these skills.

    2. Lack of “adult” levels of self-consciousness and self-awareness; a little-kid ridiculousness to their reasoning, actions and wardrobe.

    3. Inability to delay gratification.

    The outward trappings of bachelorhood are appropriate for such a character. But Al Bundy and Homer Simpson also inhabited that man-child space. All of these attributes are fantasies of a certain type of person who finds the adult world (whether single and wandering or with house and kids) too complicated and difficult. They have to consider what other people feel, and think about how other people perceive them, and they can’t have everything at once! Life is hard.

    I can kind of sympathize, but I also find it disturbing to heroize that type of person. The real-life man-children I’ve met are absolutely noxious… and frequently married.

  2. I became inspired a while back reading books about voluntary simplicity, about not buying into advertising induced consumerism and wasteful, ostentatious wealth; and trying to protect and preserve the earth’s resources, while also making life less complicated and stressful. It could also apply to spouses and children, some spouses complicate lives and others are helpful. If there isn’t a strong pull and desire to nurture children, then don’t feel the pressure to conform and by doing so help overpopulation. If the desire is there, then work on raising thoughtful, conscientious children who can make the world a better place.

  3. Teenagers, unsurprisingly, are not very interested in thinky “Hmm, that’s funny” Garrison Keelor humor.

    Most of the comedies you are talking about are targeted at 12 – 24 year olds. Adam Sandler and Will Farrell have perfected the genre begun and developed by Charlie Chaplin, The Three Stooges, Daffy Duck, Woody Allen, Jerry Lewis, Leslie Nielsen, Bill Murray, Richard Pryor and Homer Simpson. We laugh as 35 year old men flop around like idiots, to humorous effect.

    I think Judd Apatow has spent 10 years telling boys-coming-of-age stories because that tale is becoming more relevant in our modern age of video games, grad school, and extended adolescence. I much prefer the man-child narrative to the “omg the uncool girl becomes prom queen” narrative or the “will I or wont I marry the right guy” genre.

  4. Hey sixfoot6… Just because a comedian includes slapstick in his routine, that doesn’t mean there is only non-thinking humor. You can have smart humor that includes slapstick. Think Monty Python. Holy Grail is funny when you are 8 and still funny when you are 38 but for different reasons. The Simpsons, Woody Allen, Leslie Nielsen and especially Charlie Chaplin are like that too. Well, maybe Woody Allen isn’t funny when you are 8. Another thing, most of the people you named don’t just combine the silly with the witty, they are visually smart too. Their films give you a lot to look at and think about – it’s up to you as the viewer how far you want to go.

    There isn’t much more to Will Farrell or Adam Sandler than what you see on the surface- the humor is obvious and over the top, and visually the movies are dumb. I think you are right that they grew right out of Three Stooges. Nothing wrong with that (I laugh at the Three Stooges, and call me shallow but I loved The Wedding Singer)- but my god, don’t put that sort of thing in the same category as Modern Times or The Great Dictator!

  5. I definitely agree with your point about Monty Python and good balances of smart & slapstick. Most Pixar films, the Muppet Show, and plenty of classic sketch comedy operates in this way. I would also argue that Sandler and Farrell movies often have more smarts than are immediately apparent – there’s a lot thinky with a larger than live Colbert-esque character like Ron Burgandy.

    And Spanglish was pretty good.

  6. This has already been bandied about a lot on the feminist/political blogs, but one thing that cheeses me off both in this kind of entertainment trope and in lots of advertising is the infantilization of men. There’s this dominant narrative that we’re all by nature emotionally crippled manchildren who just can’t help ourselves. We’re given two choices: we can either wallow in that perpetual almost pre-adolescence, or else go get married and pump out a couple of kids and get civilized. That gives no credit to the large number of men in our generation who are sort of feeling their way toward a more enlightened (post)modern sense of masculinity, and it also excuses the reactionary pigs and jerks who continue to wallow. After all, they can’t help themselves, the poor things, and boys will be boys, at least until they’re redeemed by the love of a good upstanding woman(who they will in many cases doubtless cheat on, treat like crap, or trade in for new model in middle-age, but that happens afterward and offscreen.) Ugh.

    There also just aren’t a whole lot of examples in our culture of what a mature and normal post-feminist masculinity is supposed to look like. Like, Danny Tanner or something? But that’s hopelessly lame, and again with the family as frame, and also the almost complete asexuality. There are very mixed messages on that front too, in terms of the emotional infants being portrayed as attractive, and the men who behave more or less like grownups being either asexual or effeminate. Of course, much of the same goes for the portrayal of women, with different variations and emphases. It’s all pretty damned screwed up and schizophrenic, basically. That doesn’t mean that I won’t enjoy and laugh at some of it in spite of myself, of course.

  7. I’m glad that you were able to pinpoint so exactly what makes me uneasy and uncomfortable with this genre of “man-child” movies. All of my friends, watching, laughing, “What do you mean, you haven’t seen x?” I’ll watch those films if it’s that or sulking at home, and sure, they have a few cheap laughs.

    I hate the lifestyle they espouse, and the ultimate escape from responsibility. We’re no longer a Man in the Gray Flannel Suit generation and I believe (and have met) many examples of (post)modern men. They can keep plants alive, cook a decent meal, and have real food in their fridge, not just the fabled condiments and beer.

    These men go to work, don’t feel it is effeminate to tell you that your shoes match that red stripe in your shirt and isn’t that cute?, and they can also bake a mean batch of cookies, without being stoned.

    They may play too many video games, or top-secretly not sort their laundry, but they don’t need to be mothered and cared for and hand-held every step of the way.

    I often joke that I’m looking for a partner that doesn’t need to be mothered, but can tolerate it when I can’t help myself. Needing a mother-girlfriend, it’s not attractive, it’s not compelling, and I have no desire to mother men my age. They can figure out how to do it themselves, thank you very much.

    When I see people so obviously in this relationship it drives me batty; but it’s not the kind of thing one can fix.

    I could use a film with a responsible, thoughtful (post)modern man, or, hell, while I’m dreaming, I’d take a film with a whole slew of them, a new Dead Poet’s Society for grown-ups.

    I’d also like to note that if film isn’t fitting the bill, I’ve been quite impressed with the character and credentials of characters in a couple of Sci Fi channel shows (Eureka, Battlestar Galactica). I don’t watch much television, but these two are rocking the developed, layered male character in a way that so many other shows and movies can’t be arsed to do.

  8. I normally don’t quote the Bible, or really follow it. But I think this actually applies here…

    1 Corinthians 13:11 “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, thought like a child, and reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up my childish ways.”

    These roles are children that never grew up. I would say half of the guys I know are still in this state even with kids, and marriage.

    I think its a decision to grow up. For me it came with wanting more than playstation, cheap cars, and a normal job. I hope that makes sense.

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