"Grown Ups 2" has issues. Beyond crude jokes that don't play, beyond a sorry excuse for a plot, beyond main actors who look like they just woke up from a nap, the follow-up to 2010's "Grown Ups" is steeped in gender politics from an era long gone. It's a movie about what being a man is all about, and how that definition changes as a person grows up. The problem is, the men don't learn anything. Their definition of manliness is steadfast and narrow. The men in the movie want to be appreciated for their contributions to the world. "Grown Ups 2" is a movie about "Men's Rights" — a real thing, with a website to boot ("Please join and help us in improving life of the most ignored section of Society..."). The worst part: "Grown Ups 2" gives itself the opportunities to not be that movie.
Surprise: "Grown Ups 2" doesn't pass the Bechdel Test, a gender bias survey that asks if a work of fiction has at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. To be fair, most movies don't pass the Bechdel Test. Not every movie can or should try to pass the Bechdel Test, but it's still a reflection of an industry that nurtures stories with insular, male perspectives. Meaning, a great movie shouldn't be lambasted for failing. So it's infuriating that "Grown Ups 2" doesn't simply fail the test, it flips the bird to it.
In a world where scientific papers on why women aren't funny are actually published, Adam Sandler, co-writers Fred Wolf and Tim Herilhy, and director Dennis Dugan, take preventative measures against any material that might disprove the theory. Maya Rudolph, Maria Bello, and Salma Hayek return for the sequel and find themselves demoted from "underused" to "indentured servants." These are funny women (see: Rudolph in "MacGruber," Bello in "Thank You for Smoking," and Hayek in "30 Rock") relegated to gawking at attractive men and fighting for their husbands approval. Whereas in "Grown Ups," the women had goals for their lives that they demanded their significant others acknowledge, they're now sub-arm candy shades of their former selves. Rudolph, Bello, and Hayek one share one notable scene together: After sending the kids to school, the wives hit the gym for a fitness lesson.
The scene opens with a gag where creepy Jon Lovitz pretends to be the instructor in order to get the women in the room to shake their chests and bend over (played as a joke on objectification that doubles as a moment to showcase gratuitous cleavage). When the actual instructor arrives, the scene gets worse. All three women are overt in their affection for the hunky trainer. After a string of innuendos, Rudolph comes out with it and says she wants to take him to bed. That's the trio's moment in the spotlight.
Later appearances in the movie put the women in low status positions and obvious dramatic crossroads. Hayek's character's major plot point in the film is that she wants to have another kid while Sandler wants "me time." Then there's Cheri Oteri, playing Sandler's old elementary school flame who never stopped loving him. She clings to his notes from back in the day and fantasizes about reuniting with Sandler. She even confronts Hayek on the matter. The two eventually come to fisticuffs. Women actually fight women over men in "Grown Ups 2."
"Grown Ups 2" fumbles harder when handing LGBT characters. Bodybuilder Kris Murrell plays a character named "Beefcake Kitty," a muscle-laden athlete introduced in the fitness scene and resurfaced for gags over the course of the film. The joke is that she's transgendered — although she clearly looks like a female bodybuilder, she may have a penis. When David Spade's character is revealed to be romantically linked to Beefcake Kitty, that makes the group visibly uncomfortable. "Grown Ups 2" makes jokes at its transgendered character's expense to maintain a "normal" suburban profile. In a current climate that's opening itself up to being more accepting of a spectrum of sexualities, that's heinous.
The movie tries to reflect the social evolution going on in the country. Kyle the hunky fitness Instructor (played by Oliver Hudson) ruins Rudolph, Bello, and Hayek's days by turning out to be gay. WHAT?! A GOOD LOOKING MAN CAN BE GAY!? Surprise. The moment of mild consideration is driven back down an all too familiar road when Kyle is confronted by Nick Swardson's "Nick." Nick has problems — he's a drug addict, he's mentally unstable, and he's constantly knocking things and drooling on himself. On top of it all, he's gay, an attribute played for laughs like his other faults, that we can't believe a person really has. The bigger missteps put a microscope over the subtle digs. Taylor Lautner co-stars in the movie as a frat boy who is tired of old townies intruding on his turf. He's backed up by Milo Ventimiglia, who spends most of the film growling and patting Lautner on the back. When they realize that maybe they're more than friends, the movie stoops to the "No homo" moment of shock. Just to cover all the bases.
Amplifying the discrimination shown to these characters is main thrust of the story. Sandler, James, Rock, and Spade's are just trying to be men in a world that can't appreciate men. Early on, Rock gifts his wife with an anniversary present. When it becomes obvious that she forgot the special day, Rock seizes the opportunity. He tells Sandler that a wife missing an anniversary is a man's "Get Out of Jail Free" card. "I want one of those!" Sandler replies.
James' character is a bad husband. He watches from the sidelines while his wife schools their son and wonders why the kid is a dunce. He attends Sandler's daughter's ballet recital so that he can video tape a bombshell teacher for his own personal use. He's obsessed with his mother, skipping dates with his wife for a home cooked meal in front of the television. When he's finally confronted, Bello lets him off the hook. It's her fault for not being there for him, being more romantic and enticing. She takes him to a car wash to have teenage cheerleaders soap down their sedan.
"Grown Ups" made $162 million at the domestic box office. "Grown Ups 2" will likely do the same, if not more. Maybe we shouldn't be surprised: It's a movie primarily cast with "Saturday Night Live" actors from the early '90s. The film's gender politics feel born from that moment in time.