On September 9, 2017, local music publicist Eloy Lugo settled in for a viewing of You Don’t Mess With the Zohan, a 2008 movie in which Adam Sandler plays an Israeli secret policeman who fakes his own death so he can become a hair stylist in New York City. The consensus, according to the almighty Tomatometer, is that YDMTZ (feel free to use that shorthand) is not a very good movie.
All the same, over the course of the subsequent 357 days (as of today), Lugo has watched it a dozen more times. He’s also watched Jack and Jill, the nearly universally reviled 2011 movie in which Sandler plays both an awful man and his awful sister, 18 times. And on September 9, 2018, when Lugo wraps up his Year of Sandler with a free public screening of the 2000 son-of-satan comedy Little Nicky at the Downtown Independent, he’ll have watched that film 14 times. That’s 1,260 minutes of Sandler with an exaggerated facial palsy, of Harvey Keitel in velvet leggings, and of Kevin Nealon with tits on his head (full disclosure: I once owned Little Nicky on VHS and have seen it many, many times).
This may or may not go without saying, but Lugo really loves Adam Sandler. The year he’s spent watching a Sandler movie every single day is not a masochistic joke—it’s an expression of honest affection and admiration. “People think it’s a bit, but at this point I’m fully committed to the bit if it is a bit,” Lugo says. “It’s definitely not ironic. It’s genuine and it’s been genuine for a long time.” Prior to committing to his Year of Sandler—beginning and ending on Sandler’s birthday—Lugo hosted SandlerCon, an annual 24-hour film festival complete with Sandler cosplay and a themed dinner (sloppy joes for Billy Madison, etc).
It’s telling that 356 days into the project (we spoke on August 30), Lugo still has kind things to say about an actor who’s invaded his consciousness on a daily basis. He says he loves that Sandler always makes movies with his friends even if those movies are sure to be panned. Plus, he says, “I think he’s a very gifted and talented performer. Even when the movies are silly comedies, I think his acting is always really good. Even when the characters are unlikeable, he leans in hard on that. You wind up rooting for these characters that are despicable on paper.”
Lugo’s love affair with Sandler’s work on the big screen began in 1995, when his grandmother took him and his siblings to see Billy Madison in the theater. A perennial favorite of adolescent boys, Madison propelled Sandler to a level of fame that would make him a comedy standby at the box office through the late ’90s and early aughts. Slowly but surely, though, the adolescents who once earnestly loved Happy Gilmore and The Wedding Singer grew up and decided Sandler was a sucky sell-out. “The first flop was Little Nicky,” Lugo says. “I think that kind of turned some people off. There definitely was a shift where people turned on him.” Obviously, Lugo was an exception.
To make his Year of Sandler experience less of a slog (i.e. fewer repeat viewings of the same films), Lugo included movies that don’t necessarily qualify as “Adam Sandler movies.” That includes Sandler-starring vehicles like P.T. Anderson’s Punch Drunk Love and Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (both of which Lugo would argue speak to Sandler’s genuine ability as an actor). He also included movies with Sandler cameos, like Shakes the Clown and Coneheads. According to his online diary, viewings of the 1994 Norah Ephron holiday comedy Mixed Nuts ramped up around Christmastime. For Hanukkah, he watched Sandler’s animated Eight Crazy Nights eight nights in a row. He even shelled out to see Sandler’s latest, Hotel Transylvania 3, in the theater—twice. He swears that over the course of the entire year, he didn’t cheat: “I kind of, like, have undiagnosed but pretty bad OCD, but I feel that’s partly why I was able to continue to do this for a year.”
And what did he ultimately learn from a year of watching Adam Sandler movies? “That a year is a really long time, maybe?” Lugo says with a laugh. “It’s definitely something that I’m glad I did, but it was also for sure a mistake. I realized that, like, three months in, that this was a bad idea. But I feel like the movies will still make me laugh. It hasn’t ruined him for me, which I was a little worried about.”
Year of Sandler screening of Little Nicky, Sun., Sept. 9, 6 p.m., at Downtown Independent, 251 S. Main St., downtown.