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The Divisive Adam Sandler Comedy That's Taking Over Netflix

Former SNL funnyman and purveyor of dirty CDs Adam Sandler has found a pretty welcoming home for his ample catalog on Netflix. Sandman projects old and new have been dancing in and out of the streamer's top ten list pretty much since the feature was launched. Just because they're popular, however, doesn't mean these Sandler classics are any less divisive than when they were first released. In some cases, time has only made the controversy burn hotter.

I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry is the latest Sandler deep cut to find a new audience on Netflix. The 2007 laugher stars Sandler opposite Kevin James (King of Queens) as the titular Chuck and Larry, two FDNY lifers who pretend to be gay for the family death benefits. If you feel like the premise of two straight firefighters feigning a gay marriage to essentially commit insurance fraud feels like a poor match for the current cultural moment, you're not alone. I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry was controversial when it originally released, and that controversy hasn't lessened over time.

Even if you haven't seen the movie, you can likely imagine what it looks like to watch James and Sandler play gay; not necessarily the best look for 2020. That said, the movie certainly aspires to adequate representation and inclusive messaging — at least by 2007 standards. If you're looking for a social justice polemic to match the politics of the day, this isn't it, but that doesn't mean the 13-year-old comedy isn't still good for a couple laughs.

Netflix viewers have apparently been able to look past the division; I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry stormed onto the platform's top ten list almost as soon as it started streaming. Here's what you're in for, should you choose to take the plunge along with the masses.

Sandler and James are good in Chuck & Larry, but Nick Swardson steals the show

We can say one thing for Chuck & Larry with certainty: Adam Sandler and Kevin James are incredibly well cast. Sandler plays Chuck Levine, a lecherous bachelor who works for the New York City Fire Department, while James plays Valentine, a blue collar widower left to raise two young kids on his fireman's salary. After a near-death experience in a burning building, Chuck agrees to pretend to marry Larry so that Larry can name his children as beneficiaries on his department life insurance policy.

It's all a bit convoluted. You see, when Larry's wife died, a glitch in the paperwork made it impossible to swap in Larry's children as the insurance beneficiaries. The insurance agent who breaks this news to Larry suggests that he find a new spouse and name her the beneficiary. Since Larry doesn't trust any of the women in his life, he turns to Chuck. 

Chuck and Larry get their civil union, but the suspicious pairing triggers an insurance investigation. In order to keep up appearances, Chuck moves in with Larry and the two begin to feign romantic partnership with an assist from the family law attorney who helped them obtain a Canadian marriage license, Alex McDonough (Jessica Biel). Chuck and Larry get dragged by their homophobic co-workers, and learn a few lessons themselves about what it's like for actual gay people in an oppressive society. Tempering all the fake gay behavior by the two leads is a scene-stealing character contribution from Happy Madison veteran Nick Swardson (Grandma's Boy). Swardson plays Kevin McDonaugh, an honestly gay man who injects the movie with some much-need empathy, while dialing up the comedy every time he enters. The performance isn't quite enough to save Chuck & Larry from all the warranted criticism, but it does help. 

Chuck & Larry is even more divisive now than it was in 2007

There's no doubt that the producers of Chuck & Larry thought they were making a progressive film for the time of its release. It's hard to imagine now, but the positive depiction of same-sex marriages (even fake ones) plus the explicit support for civil unions actually drew some ire in 2007. Now, 13 years later, the film's dearth of queer actors and all the stereotypes played for cheap laughs feel tired-bordering-on-offensive.

As Vice points out in a 2017 revisit of the film, "Sure, the prospect of a mainstream comedy that does its best to suggest that homophobia sucks and male friendship is good is nice. But one can't help but wish literally anyone other than Adam Sandler had taken up that mantle, and it's mind-boggling to think any critics thought this film was fine, even in 2007."

You can see the split decision in the film's Rotten Tomatoes score: 15% positive from critics, 69% positive from viewers. A few critics conceded that the film isn't unfunny, but very few could get past the cringe-worthy issues highlighted by Vice.

Even back in 2007, Wendy Ide at Times U.K. pointed out, "The film-makers behind I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry would probably claim a message of tolerance and personal growth, but this woeful Adam Sandler vehicle is as nasty a piece of sniggering homophobia as I have seen in a long time." That tone deafness is more or less at the heart of the film's divided reception, and it echoes even more discordant today. 

Chuck & Larry is currently streaming on Netflix. If you didn't catch it back in 2007, you can tune in now and decide if the film passes the smell test for yourself.