Big Daddy's Day

Big Daddy's Day

Big Daddy's Day

Highlights from the week in criticism.
June 30 1999 3:00 AM

Big Daddy's Day

Movies

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Big Daddy (Columbia Pictures). Critics call Adam Sandler's latest film immature, irresponsible, and only marginally funny. But moviegoers couldn't have cared less: The film beat Tarzan for the No. 1 spot at the box office and had the second-largest opening ever for a comedy (behind the recent Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me). Its premise: A thirtysomething slacker adopts a child to demonstrate his maturity to his wary girlfriend. Since it's a Sandler film (he shares a writing credit), this "daddy" teaches his young charge how to pee in public, spit, and trip Rollerbladers and tells him that the only thing better than drinking Yoo-Hoo is "smokin' dope." Like most critics, the Chicago Sun-Times' Roger Ebert is not impressed: "Big Daddy should be reported to the child welfare office." It's not as funny as The Waterboy, it's not as sweet as The Wedding Singer, and it fails at its only real goal: It "doesn't generate a lot of big laughs" (Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly). (Click here for info on Sandler's earlier films.)

An Ideal Husband (Miramax Films). Rupert Everett turns in a "brilliant comic performance" (Joe Morgenstern, the Wall Street Journal) as an idle and decadent bachelor in this adaptation of Oscar Wilde's play, but the rest of the film gets mediocre notices. The chief complaints: 1) Wilde's sharp edge has been dulled--it's "likable" and "handsome" but "diluted" (Stephen Holden, the New York Times); 2) the story "unfolds with all the urgency of a dainty tea napkin" (Susan Wloszczyna, USA Today); and 3) the plot, a blackmail scheme with many moral quandaries to resolve, ends too tidily and happily for its own good. (For loads of dreamy photos of Everett, check out this fan site.)

Return With Honor (Ocean Releasing). This documentary about a group of U.S. pilots who were held as POWs in the Vietnam War wins excellent marks from most critics: "engrossing and chilling" says Stanley Kauffmann in the New Republic; Entertainment Weekly's Gleiberman says, "You emerge shaken, with your perceptions--of Vietnam and of war in general--permanently enlarged." A few carp about the film's cloying, overt patriotism--and the avoidance of the politics and protests that surrounded the war--with the most vocal dissenters saying it "restart[s] the John Wayne-ing of Vietnam" (Michael Atkinson, the Village Voice). For most, though, the stories, told by some 20 captured airmen, speak eloquently and powerfully. (Click here to read about the film's opening night at the National Air and Space Museum.)

Books

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Who's Irish, by Gish Jen (Random House). Jen switches from novels (such as Mona in the Promised Land) to stories, and the critics are impressed. The collection covers the same ground as her two previous books--the immigrant and biracial experience in America--and she covers it with "equal measures of pathos and wry fun ... the collection, at its considerable best, finds words for all the high and low notes of the raucous American anthem" (Jean Thompson, the New York Times Book Review). The New York Times' Michiko Kakutani is less enamored than most, noting that a few of the stories "appear to be studies for [Jen's] earlier novels and stand somewhat shakily on their own." (Read the first story courtesy of the New York Times.)

Walker Evans,by James R. Mellow (Basic Books). Mellow, a National Book Award winner, died before completing this long biography of the photographer and writer--making it this summer's third example (after Ernest Hemingway's True at First Light and Ralph Ellison's Juneteenth) of an unfinished work by a deceased author published before proper completion. The biography reveals fascinating details about Evans' life and provides a new insight into his art, but critics say it gets weighted down by superfluous material the author would likely have removed had he finished the book, resulting in a somewhat "exasperating" tome (Margaret Loke, the New York Times). Even worse, the ending, which details Evans' final years and death from drinking, is still in the form of unfinished notes by Mellow. (Click here to see a sampling of Evans' photographs.)

Snap Judgments

Movie

My Son the Fanatic (Miramax Films). Critics love this British film directed by Udayan Prasad about the life and dreams of a downtrodden Pakistani taxi driver in the north of England. Their only quibble: It's more of an extended character study than a full-fledged drama.

Music

Electric Honey, by Luscious Jackson (EMD/Capitol). Solid reviews for the all-female group's third album. Riding on the success of their breakout Fever In Fever Out (1996), they've turned in another smooth 'n' mellow album, but this one is "a more eclectic mix of hip-hop, pop and rock sounds wrapped around sensual vocals" (Tad Hendrickson, CMJ).