In spite of Roger Ebert’s extremely negative review, The Waterboy was the sold-outest show of the day when we went. After just a few days in release, it has now set a box office record for November openings.
Sometimes, the mob is right.
Did You Notice?
If you’re not a fan of Sandler’s, you might not like this movie. The plot is as dumb as Sandler’s character, Bobby Bouchet, a 30-year old dunce.
For example, Bobby gets his job as a waterboy by providing fresh water to the local football coach. The coach (Henry Winkler) had been using some slimy brown sludge until Bobby came along. Bobby won the coach’s respect with his knowledge of H20, and he got the job.
Bobby gets razzed as the waterboy, and he takes the abuse with good humor, as his mom (Oscar winner Kathy Bates) has no doubt taught him. But Coach Klein tells Bobby he needs to stand up for himself. He needs to fight back or else the razzing will never stop. So the next time a player teases Bobby, he drives the bully to the ground with the force of a pro wrestler. Klein is so impressed he signs Bobby up for the team as a tackle.
Dumb as this all sounds, the setup has a certain film-plot logic to it. It follows all the conventions and rules of a sports movie — the young kid has to prove himself before he gets his first big break. Then he’s allowed to join the big boys and make a splash. The specifics are silly and dumb, but they do fit the bill.
Coraci, screenwriter Tim Herlihy, and Sandler never let the movie go above this level. It would be easy to imagine some sly wink at the audience that says “we know this is a dumb plot and we’re really above this.” Instead, the movie stays firmly rooted in its silly reality, and I think that’s important for this type of comedy. Once you start winking, you’re merely talking about comedy, not actually performing it, and you end up with a dog like Spy Hard.
What’s also funny is that in your average sports movie, the hero would be a placekicker or a pitcher or a golfer. He would have some special skill that set him apart. So the idea that tackling is a “special skill” is actually pretty funny. It’s even funnier from Sandler, whose comic persona includes a dark, violent side (in Billy Madison he plays dodgeball with first graders and shows no mercy).
The Waterboy wasn’t as funny for me as The Wedding Singer, Sandler’s last film. The Southern dunce character is funny, but it’s almost too much to endure for a whole movie. It almost seems as if The Waterboy should have come first in the evolution of Sandler’s career.
Sandler’s character in The Wedding Singer seems so much more mature and well-developed (if such adjectives could ever describe Sandler) than the hulking slack-jawed dunce in The Waterboy, that I wonder if perhaps they were written in reverse order.
Regardless, Sandler has established himself in American movies. Dumb as his movies may be, Sandler can always make me laugh. It’s a sure bet that whatever he comes up with next will sell lots of tickets, including one for me. No matter what Ebert says.