Adam Sandler as Leo in Leo

Netflix’s New #1 Movie Further Proves Adam Sandler Has a Knack for Coming-of-Age Stories

Adam Sandler further proves he has a knack for coming-of-age stories with his new animated Netflix film, Leo. The film marks his second well-received coming-of-age film after You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah, which also flourished on the streamer last summer.

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After premiering on November 21, Leo has risen to become the number one movie on Netflix in the United States, an accomplishment You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah also achieved. It’s not uncommon for Sandler’s movies to get good viewership rates simply because of his star power. For example, The Ridiculous 6 has a sad 0% score on Rotten Tomatoes yet broke viewership records on Netflix, resulting in the critically panned film helping secure Sandler a $250 million deal with the platform.

However, Leo and You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah aren’t at all like Sandler’s recently panned comedies like Home Team, Hubie Halloween, and The Out-Laws. In addition to getting good viewership numbers, they’re also attaining critical acclaim.

These films are very different from what Sandler fans may be accustomed to. It can’t be denied that Sandler is a talented comedian, but a lot of his movies almost just blur together. They often feature the same actors and the same formula, and he usually plays pretty much the same character. Can anyone even tell the difference between Bobby Boucher Jr., Happy Gilmore, Billy Madison, and Hubie DuBois? Sandler has done something slightly different before with Hustle, but it feels like he may have found his definitive niche with coming-of-age stories.

Leo is one of Adam Sandler’s best films yet

Adam Sandler as Leo and Sunny Sandler as Summer in Leo

It’s not surprising Leo has become Netflix’s top movie and is getting positive reviews from critics—it’s an excellent film. I’ll be honest: I went into it not knowing much about it and expecting an animated movie where Sandler plays a lizard to be quite silly. It is silly but in a funny and creative way. The humor may have be so on-point because Sandler co-wrote the script with SNL alum Robert Smigel. However, a drone going through a breakup, hilariously animated rabid kindergartens, and Leo’s (Sandler) sarcasm make this a genuinely hysterical film that moves away from the tired manchild humor Sandler movies usually boast.

Leo is more than funny, though; it’s also a surprisingly poignant coming-of-age story. The touching story follows Leo, a 74-year-old classroom pet lizard who believes his time is running out. He devises a plan to escape to the Everglades while being taken home by a different fifth-grade student each week. However, his escape plan takes a backseat when he starts talking to and finding fulfillment in these students.

Meanwhile, the children are portrayed very thoughtfully. It’s easy to assume fifth graders don’t have problems, but Leo reminds viewers of the anxiety of growing up and trying to find acceptance. Additionally, it captures how many kids are going through elementary school bearing the weight of divorced, helicopter, or out-of-touch parents, as well as the difference kindness and a listening ear make.

Leo is as adept at capturing the awkwardness, pressure, and anxiety of childhood as You Are So Not Invited to My Bar Mitzvah. Both films capture growing up in a non-squeamish way, like acknowledging that menstruation, having questions about where babies come from, or struggling with body hair are natural parts of growing older. The best coming-of-age films are those that normalize what growing up looks like, and Sandler has now made two films back-to-back that do just that and manage to celebrate adolescence even when it gets messy.

Sandler has tried something new with Leo and You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah—and the effort is paying off. He proves that he can really capture the preteen experience in a way that is empathetic and accurate. Part of it may be because he is a father, as You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah drew heavily from his daughters’ experiences growing up in a Jewish American family. Hopefully, he will keep exploring this genre and shifting his film formula.

The overwhelmingly positive response to his two latest films may also demonstrate a shift in audiences. Like Sandler, I think we’re all finally getting ready to retire the manchild trope because, honestly, preteen girls who make friends with kind lizards or panic about their bat mitzvahs are a lot more fun to watch.

(featured image: Netflix)

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Rachel Ulatowski
Rachel Ulatowski is a Staff Writer for The Mary Sue, who frequently covers DC, Marvel, Star Wars, literature, and celebrity news. She has over three years of experience in the digital media and entertainment industry, and her works can also be found on Screen Rant, JustWatch, and Tell-Tale TV. She enjoys running, reading, snarking on YouTube personalities, and working on her future novel when she's not writing professionally. You can find more of her writing on Twitter at @RachelUlatowski.