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BILLY MADISON

20TH ANNIVERSARY OF SANDLER'S COMEDY CLASSIC

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By Jess Fenton
8th February 2015
By the time ‘Billy Madison’ came around in 1995, Adam Sandler was no stranger to our screens. Appearing on both big and small, Sandler had been an SNL cast member for the past five years and showed off his big league chops next to Brendan Fraser and Steve Buscemi in ‘Airheads’ and Steve Martin in ‘Mixed Nuts’ the previous year. And let's not forget his “token white guy” status as Smitty in a handful of late 80s ‘The Cosby Show’ episodes. But it wasn’t until the over-privileged, layabout, dumbass Billy Madison decided to go back to school that Sandler broke out from the shadows of his more talented colleagues such as Mike Meyers, David Spade and Chris Farley. We saw what he was really made of, and it was damn funny. Collaborating with SNL writer Tim Herlihy, the pair wrote what was the first of many successful film projects together including ‘Happy Gilmore’, ‘The Water Boy’, ‘Big Daddy’ and the future ‘Pixels - and thus the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

‘Billy Madison’ is the tale of an heir to a Fortune 500 hotel empire being pipped at the post for takeover by conniving employee Eric (Bradley Whitford). Upon hearing of his father’s less than stellar opinion of him and learning that his entire scholastic career was a lie Billy imposes a bet, of sorts - to go back to school (“to prove to dad that I’m not a fool”), two weeks a grade, Kindergarten to year 12, re-test, re-graduate and the company is his. After a rough start, Billy eventually gets the hang of things, even making friends and falling for one of his teachers, Veronica Vaughn (Bridgette Wilson). When it looks like Eric might actually lose the bet to a nudie magazine-loving, beer guzzling half-wit, sabotage becomes the order of the day, resulting in the academic decathlon to end all academic decathlons... whatever that means.

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While the film may have debuted in the #1 spot at the box office, it received mixed - but never glowing - reviews and a 46% rating on Rotten Tomatoes - not the lowest scoring Sandler film (in fact one of the highest), but by no means receiving high praise. Described by one reviewer as finding moments of “inspired lunacy”, and another as "a kid-friendly version of 'Dumb and Dumber'", most wrote Sandler off. Even the great Roger Ebert relegating Sandler to the pits of “he might have a career as a villain, a fall guy or the butt of a joke.” Well, it turns out that Mr Ebert was so right and so wrong at the same time, but only time would tell on that one.

Okay, so the humour was immature and idiotic, but does that mean it wasn’t funny? 'Billy Madison' has gone on to inherit cult-like status and become a defining film of a generation, along side Sandler’s follow up ‘Happy Gilmore’. Debates are still raged today as to which one is the more superior film, along with whether shampoo or conditioner is better. But I digress. Laugh factor aside, ‘Billy Madison’ still makes a point of dealing with bullies, friendship, a father/son relationship, the harsh reality of growing up, the politics of dodgeball, and there’s even a musical number, but oddly dating the teacher never gets so much as an eyebrow raise. Nor are there double-takes at giant hallucinogenic penguins, Mexican wrestling gay principals, a kindergarden teacher with a deep-seeded love of glue, a homicidal lipstick wearing man, a dead clown, a short-fused school bus driver, a maid with boundary issues, or a teacher being set on fire or one more thing... oh yeah, a grown man attending primary school. ‘Billy Madison’ really does have something for everyone.

'Billy Madison' has gone on to inherit cult-like status and become a defining film of a generation.

So two decades on and a legion of fans later one must ask, "Where are they now...?"

Adam Sandler was fired from SNL the same year as ‘Billy Madison’s’ release, but the success of the film and his recording career gave him independence and a leg to stand on, resulting in a mutual parting. Future roles in ‘The Wedding Singer’ (perhaps he most endearing role to date) and ‘Big Daddy’ (his highest grossing film) opened him up to a wider and more mature audience, some of whom have even stuck around despite him diving headfirst again into that barrel to see how fast he can reach the bottom. Constantly topping highest earner lists and producing lucrative movies year after year, Adam has settled into the second half of life still making movies with his merry band of misfit friends, and as a married father with two daughters Sadie and Sunny.

Bridgette Wilson appeared in ‘Mortal Kombat’, ‘I Know What You Did Last Summer’ and ‘The Wedding Planner’ before meeting and wedding her tennis superstar husband Pete Sampras. Bit parts came here and there before Bridgette left acting in 2008 to raise her two children.

These days, Bradley Whitford is probably best known as Josh Lyman from the highly acclaimed TV series ‘The West Wing’, or possibly America Ferrera’s dad in ‘The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants’, depending on who you talk to. Currently he can be seen back in TV land in ‘Transparent’ and the coming soon ‘Happyish’.

As for all of Billy’s little school friends; they grew up. Miss Lippy may or may not still drive a green car, and no one knows the fate of that damn clown.

FAST FACTS
RELEASE DATE: 10/02/1995
RUN TIME: 1h 29m
CAST: Adam Sandler
Bridgette Wilson
Bradley Whitford
Darren McGavin
Josh Mostel
DIRECTOR: Tamra David
WRITERS: Tim Herlihy
Adam Sandler
PRODUCER: Robert Simonds
SCORE: Randy Edelman
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