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Mr. Deeds

  • compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 Jan
Mr. Deeds

from Film Forum, 07/03/02

In Mr. Deeds, Adam Sandler plays Longfellow Deeds, a nice guy from small-town New Hampshire who inherits $40 billion. Eventually his small-town, old-fashioned virtues teach the silver-spoon set a thing or two. Along the way, he wins the adoration of a beautiful reporter named Babe Bennett (Winona Ryder), and is waited upon by a dignified valet (John Turturro).

It's not just the formula—the simpleton trying to cope with great wealth—that's familiar. The movie is a remake of Frank Capra's Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. At least it is supposed to be a remake. Critics are finding very little in common between the original and this new version. Many argue that sarcastic Sandler has been sorely miscast.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' critic writes, "It might have been better if Mr. Deeds hadn't come to town. Sandler's uninventive remake … can't decide if it wants to be a sappy romance, an indictment of a moneyed culture or a slapstick comedy."

Bob Smithouser (Focus on the Family) calls it an "occasionally sweet-spirited, yet often profane adaptation. It's as if the first 20 minutes were too much decency for the filmmakers to take, so they backloaded the picture with as much crass, MTV-style humor as possible to compensate for the wholesome set-up."

Michael Elliott (Christian Critic) says, "Simple is the best descriptive for this disappointing piece of fluff. More accurately, it is simple-minded. Apparently nothing stands in the way of reaching for a laugh, no matter how far one must stretch. Adam Sandler has built his career playing goofy guys with a heavy sarcastic and sardonic sense of humor. As Longfellow Deeds, Sandler … is muzzled and his performance becomes bland."

Lisa Rice (Movieguide) says, "[It] brings a clear moral about the dangers of wealth and greed. It shows that guys really do want a sweet 'girl next door,' and that they value real relationships." She sees a problem in Deeds' character development … or lack of such. "One of the first rules of screenwriting is that the protagonist must have a character arc. Mr. Deeds stays the same throughout the film. His eyes are opened a bit to the shallowness and greed of the wealthy elite, but his own character undergoes no change."

Phil Boatwright (Movie Reporter) says, "How do I compare this remake with the original, starring Gary Cooper and directed by Frank Capra? Hamburger vs. steak."

Paul Bicking (Preview) affirms that "Mr. Deeds is not without problems." But he lists different problems: vulgar language and violence. And because Deeds tends to punch people who have bad manners, Bicking also reminds us, "Violence is not the best way to influence behavior."

One critic stood up for the film. Holly McClure (Crosswalk) says she "laughed all the way through this movie," but she adds that "Happy Gilmore remains Sandler's funniest movie."

Mainstream critics seemed glad that Capra and Cooper are not around to see their movie so mistreated. Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times) found one scene particularly ironic. "At one point during the long ordeal … it is said of the Adam Sandler character, 'He doesn't share our sense of ironic detachment.' Is this a private joke by the writer? If there's is one thing Sandler's Mr. Deeds has, it's ironic detachment."

Andrew O'Hehir ( says, "There is something fundamentally bogus … about this movie's painfully earnest presentation of its plain-spoken, heartland-America values. It's fake sincerity, or maybe sincere fakery."