HomeMovies1999 Movie-versaries: Big Daddy

1999 Movie-versaries: Big Daddy

1999 was a big year for movies. It was the year that The Matrix‘s slow-motion bullet influenced action movies for years to come. It was the year American Beauty won Best Picture at the Academy Awards and Oscar fans have been arguing about it ever since. It was the year Pokémon jumped from Gameboys and TV to the big screen. And worst of all, it was the year that disappointed a generation of Star Wars fans with the release of The Phantom Menace.

To celebrate that landmark year in film’s 20th Anniversary, The Pop Break continues its year-long retrospective of 1999’s most influential (at least to us) films with staff writer, Ben Murchison, looking back at the film that is arguably Adam’s Sandler’s peak: Big Daddy.

During the mid to late ’90s, Adam Sandler starred in some of the most quoted and well-liked comedies of the decade, beginning with Billy Madison, followed by Happy Gilmore, The Wedding Singer, The Waterboy, and then culminating with Big Daddy in 1999. For his turn as Sonny Koufax, Sandler stripped away some of the outlandish elements that accompanied most of his prior characters and played his role mostly straight—which worked remarkably well.

This resulted in the highest grossing live-action film of his career and showed audiences that he’s capable of carrying more dramatic material, as he later did in films like Punch-Drunk Love and Spanglish. Let’s not get carried away, though. The best dramatic acting that Sandler did in this film was while a kid was screaming, “I wipe my own ass”. Big Daddy is very much a comedy, and a damn good one.

When Sonny tries to fix a failing relationship with his girlfriend Vanessa (Kristy Swanson), by adopting a kid, things don’t go quite how he expected. The writing duo of Sandler and Tim Herlihy (the singing kangaroo) purchased the script that became Big Daddy from Steve Franks, the creator of the show Psych. Along with frequent collaborator, director Dennis Dugan, they turned it into a successful vehicle for Sandler to work his comedy magic on, and friends into.

The cast features the usual suspects like Rob Schneider, Steve Buscemi, Peter Dante, Allen Covert, and Jonathan Loughran, along with Joey Lauren Adams, Jon Stewart and Leslie Mann, but the movie doesn’t work without the right Julian, or Frankenstein, as he chooses to be called. That role was filled by Cole and Dylan Sprouse, the twins that would later go on to The Suite Life of Zack & Cody fame.

The dynamic between Julian and Sonny is genuine as Sonny demonstrates how little he knows about taking care of a kid, asking the 5-year-old if he drinks formula, or wears diapers early on, while Julian hesitantly goes with the flow while still clinging to what he knows. He knows to hold hands when crossing the street, he needs a night light to sleep and enjoys a painfully irritating kids’ song when he wakes up from a nap, so Sonny accommodates as best he can.

He makes about every mistake someone caring for an impressionable child could make, but their relationship grows as Sonny realizes his impact on Julian is outweighed only by the impact Julian is having on him.  Watching the transformation from Sonny wanting to keep Julian for selfish reasons, to loving him and wanting to be a great father is a surprisingly emotional journey by the film’s climatic custody case.

Sandler doesn’t reinvent the wheel with his comedy for this one, but he does introduce a new element by having a kid to play off of for the majority of the laughs. The innocence of Julian picking up bad habits from Sonny is played safely to a PG-13 level, and it’s more entertaining because they are both adapting the best they know how.  There is a middle ground between allowing a kid to dress himself, while living off ketchup packets and telling him how to live his life, and they are going to figure out what that is.

Schneider’s role as the friendly food delivery guy is probably his best supporting role in any of Sandler’s movies. I know I’ve personally repeated the jokes about him not being able to read and trying to say hippopotamus in various contexts more times than I can count. Mann steals every scene she’s in as Corinne, the fiancé of Sonny’s roommate Kevin (Stewart), trading barbs with Sonny about him being gross and poor and him continuing a running joke about her working at Hooters during college. Adams also has great chemistry with Sandler as Corinne’s sister Layla, a new love interest that doesn’t feel the need to force Sonny into changing.

While Happy Gilmore will always be peak Sandler for me, Big Daddy still holds up 20 years later both for its comedic elements and its occasional pulling of the heartstrings. The great soundtrack and meticulous effort that had to go into choosing the outfits that Julian wears while Sonny is trying his unique method of parenting alone are worth a rewatch if you haven’t seen the movie in a while.

Big Daddy is currently streaming on Netflix.

Ben Murchison
Ben Murchison
Ben Murchison is a regular contributor for TV and Movies. He’s that guy that spends an hour in an IMDb black hole of research about every film and show he watches. Strongly believes Buffy the Vampire Slayer to be the best show to ever exist, and that Peaky Blinders needs more than 6 episodes per series. East Carolina grad, follow on Twitter and IG @bdmurchison.

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