8/10/2013

(Some Thoughts on) Grown Ups 2

Grown Ups 2, instrumented by regular Adam Sandler collaborator Dennis Dugan, caught me by surprise: I submit that it is one of the most original releases, American or otherwise, to hit the screen in 2013. Judging from the trailer, Grown Ups 2 seems a rather inconspicuous effort at mainstream comedy. The fact that it’s a sequel wasn’t going to be conducive to its critical appeal either. Unsurprisingly it was met almost exclusively with severe disapprobation (with the notable exception of German cinephilia, where a small but vocal cabal of Dugan-Sandlerites are trying to influence critical and public opinion in the film’s favour; cf. Jochen Werner’s article at perlentaucher).

Not having seen the first part, I was thrown into the sequel’s small town world without prior knowledge of its coordinates, which I think made for an even more blissful experience: to see an unknown but preexistent world come together from nothing. And what a manifold and abundant world it is! So abundant, in fact, that there is hardly any time for the usual narrative contraptions to take hold: "There are no more shackles here" (J. Werner). Grown Ups 2 shows us a day in the life of a small town in a properly caleidoscopic vision, an array of inconsequential miniatures, substituting spatial coexistence for narrative progression. The film is made up of loosely connected fragments, albeit of a non-fragmented communal life: everybody knows everybody else, as finally do we. But not even the community’s spatial unfolding follows a clear-cut trajectory. There will be a party at the end of the movie to bring the whole cast together in an epic fight against the evil frat boys of Kappa Eta Sigma – representatives of a neoliberal Regime of Brothers who get their asses whipped by women, children and a gay yoga instructor donning an Indiana Jones costume – but before this utterly satisfying showdown there is almost no sense of development or direction. As the handle to Andrew Barker’s hatchet job for Variety aptly puts it (minus the inferred judgement): "Among the slackest, laziest, least movie-like movies released by a major studio in the last decade."

This is the radical proposition of Grown Ups 2: a day in the life not of one man (like, say, Leopold Bloom) but of a whole town, unmoored from the tedious constraints of cause and effect and thus freed to articulate its parts in wholly new and, at least in the context of Hollywood mainstream filmmaking, unseen ways. I often found myself thinking that this looks very much like a work of installation or database video art, not least due to its unabashedly digital aesthetics (Grown Ups 2 was filmed with a Red Epic digital camera). At the same time you never forget that what you’re watching is comedy crude and simple, replete with lower body jokes and sight gags. All in all: a masterpiece maudit of contemporary moving-image art.

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