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Film / Big Daddy

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This 1999 box-office smash starred Adam Sandler, Jon Stewart, and twin child actors Dylan & Cole Sprouse.

It tells the story of thirtysomething Manhattan resident Sonny Koufax (Sandler), a Syracuse law graduate who has no plan whatsoever of taking his bar exam. Instead, he lives off a fat settlement from getting his foot run over years ago and works as a toll-booth collector one day per week, spending the rest of his days sleeping and watching cartoons at the apartment he rents with fellow Syracuse alum Kevin Gerrity (Stewart).

His life changes forever one day when a young orphan named Julian (Cole and Dylan Sprouse) is literally left at his door. Sonny at first wants nothing to do with the kid, but then realizes that he just might be able to use him to impress his cantankerous father, Lenny (Joseph Bologna) — not to mention win back the affection of his disillusioned girlfriend, Vanessa.

As time goes on, Sonny and Julian strike up a friendship that eventually becomes so strong that Sonny decides to adopt the boy permanently. Problem is, social services representative Arthur Brooks (Josh Mostel) suspects that Sonny may have resorted to chicanery in order to gain custody of Julian, and decides to investigate...

This movie also features Joey Lauren Adams as Layla, a lawyer who helps Sonny; Leslie Mann as Corinne, Layla's sardonic sister; and Rob Schneider as Nazo, a delivery boy who often brings Sonny food. Steve Buscemi turns up in a cameo as a homeless person.

Not to be confused with that character in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Or the comedy band who does contemporary songs in the style of the '50s. Or with rapper Big Daddy Kane. Or with World Wrestling Entertainment's Big Daddy V — or, for that matter, with their "Big Daddy Cool." Or with the 1970s British wrestler. Or with those tough drill-arm enemies from BioShock. Or with that huge, 1,000-calorie burger offered by Southern California restaurant chain Cronies. Or the Chick Tract on evolution. Or with Hit Girl's father.

Tropes Include:

  • Ambiguously Jewish: The Koufaxes' ethnicity is never revealed, but in one scene Sonny puts on a subtle Yiddish accent while impersonating his grandmother. Sonny also shares his surname with Jewish baseball player Sandy Koufax.
  • Author Appeal: Sandler, who co-wrote and co-produced this film in addition to starring in it, includes references to some of his favorite things (such as Professional Wrestling, fast food, and the rock band Styx).
  • Babies Ever After: Sonny and Layla have an infant child of their own by the end of the movie.
  • Back for the Finale: The Hooters sequence at the end, which reunites the majority of the cast.
  • Becoming the Mask: Sonny pretends to be Julian's father to fix his relationship with Vanessa but by the end of the movie he feels like he's Julian's father.
  • Bedmate Reveal: Downplayed. Sonny knew that Vanessa was beside him, but we didn't.
  • Big Eater: An enormously fat (and suspiciously Mob-looking) man is a regular patron of Sonny's favorite Italian restaurant, and he is always seen with a different girlfriend. (Sonny's theory is that he keeps eating his love interests.)
  • Big "NO!": Julian when the judge officially awards his custody to his biological father, Kevin.
  • Big "SHUT UP!": Sonny's dad Lenny says this to Tommy for trying to defend Sonny by objecting Lenny's statement that Sonny is an unfit father.
  • Bitch Alert:
    • Vanessa. From the moment you hear her shrill, whiny voice, you know she's going to be nothing but trouble — and you're right.
    • Also done a bit with Corinne, albeit with more humor and Defanged Bitchiness.
  • Bowdlerized: The trailer (and basic cable TV version) of the McDonald's scene has Sonny letting out a Big "NO!" instead of "Aw, horseshit!" after being told that McDonald's stopped serving breakfast after 10:30 AM.
  • Brick Joke:
    • Upon investigating Vanessa's sudden rejection of him, Sonny discovers that she has dumped him in favor of a senior citizen (and grandfather) whom she defends as obviously preferable as a love interest because "he has a five-year plan." About a year and a half later, it is revealed that Vanessa is now working at Hooters with the older man, whose "five-year plan" included being the restaurant chef.
    • Also:
    "Is that the guy with the old balls?"
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Sonny is a law school graduate, but never took the bar, preferring to work one day a week at a toll booth and just but around the rest of the week. The events of the film change this.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Sonny still thinks that hawking loogies and throwing sticks in front of skaters so they'll trip are funny things to do, but he still boasts an impressive knowledge of Congressional legislation from his days at law school.
  • Burger Fool: Vanessa and Sid work at Hooters.
  • Butt-Monkey: Nazo exists for comedy at his own expense.
  • Canada, Eh?: Kevin sings the praises of Canadian beer at the trial.
  • Chekhov's Gag: Corinne working at Hooters is repeated often and becomes relevant. She met Kevin at a Toronto Hooters.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Early on, Sonny gives Julian a pair of sunglasses and tells him that he will be invisible when he wears them. These come in handy when Julian is asked to testify at Sonny's trial and is too nervous to speak in front of all the strangers.
  • Children Raise You: Sonny at the start is a lazy jerkass. Sonny at the end is a mature (if still goofy) lawyer.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: The crazed homeless man shows flashes of this behavior: within seconds, he goes from taunting Nazo to giggling stupidly to screaming "STOP YELLING AT ME!" and bursting into tears.
  • Comedic Sociopathy: Among other escapades, Sonny takes Julian to the park and teaches him to throw sticks in front of in-line skaters to make them trip — all for his own sick amusement.
  • Comedic Work, Serious Scene: Julian getting taken away. The film is an Adam Sandler comedy through and through, but the relationship between Julian and Sonny is fairly heartwarming, and the scene in question is Played for Drama.
  • The Comically Serious: Kevin, Vanessa, the kindergarten teacher, and Sonny's dad (to an extent), are all funny because they are serious in the face of silliness.
  • Coming of Age Story: It's played straight for Sonny for him to become a more responsible adult rather than to sit around and do nothing while reminiscing of the good ol' days between him and his friends.
  • Didn't Think This Through: Sonny decided to adopt Julian (by lying to child services of his identity) to prove to Vanessa that he can be someone she wants to stay with. But then Sonny meets her new boyfriend...
    Sonny: I can't believe this! I adopted him so we can become a family, I thought that's what you wanted!
    Vanessa: Sonny, surprising me with a kid while I was away, isn't exactly what I had in mind!
    Sonny: But I did this for you! You wanted me to be more responsible! I can't raise this kid alone!
    Sid: You know, you remind me of my grandson, he didn't think things through.
    Sonny: Hey, Old Man River, zip it or I'll break your hip!
  • Disproportionate Retribution:
    • Sonny had Julian pee on the side of the restaurant when a waiter wouldn't let him use the restroom because they're for customers only. But mostly because the waiter said it ain't his problem when Sonny tells him he's "just a kid".
    • While trick-or-treating during the montage, Sonny made a guy give Julian some CDs, cereal and his watch because he flipped them off, and Sonny warns him to "be prepared" next time. Though in the man's defense, he was busy on the phone and didn't have any candies to begin with, but Sonny wouldn't stop pestering him because he wanted him to give Julian something so he would have a good time.
  • Dissimile:
    Tommy: In your experience, was Sonny a good father to Julian?
    Nazo: Oh, yes. They make terrific pair. They went together like lamb and tuna fish.
    [confused murmurs]
    Tommy: "Lamb and tuna fish?"
    Nazo: Maybe you like spaghetti and meatball? You more comfortable with that analogy?
  • Doorstop Baby: Julian was left there by some guy who was told to take him to Sonny's place. He isn't literally a baby anymore by that point but it's the same plot of 'how do I raise a kid'?.
  • Foil:
    • Kevin Gerrity to Sonny Koufax. The two men look remarkably alike (except for Kevin having a more professional-looking haircut), but Kevin is there mainly to show the kind of man that Sonny could become (financially successful and happily married) if he just acted a little more responsibly. This doppelganger theme is even played up by the movie's main plot, which sees Sonny pretending to be Kevin (though, ironically, in doing this he is being irresponsible and not at all Kevin-like).
    • Kevin's fiancee (and later wife) Corinne also has a foil — Vanessa, Sonny's would-be wife. Corinne eventually quits her job as a Hooter's waitress and becomes a doctor, while Vanessa goes in reverse. Corinne also has a loving personality beneath her mean exterior, while Vanessa tries to hide her icy heart beneath a (somewhat) pleasant exterior.
  • Food End: Buffalo wings! Yum!
  • Foreshadowing:
    • In something of an Actor Allusion to his role in Happy Gilmore (also directed by Dennis Dugan), Sonny plays golf on the putting green on the roof of Kevin's apartment and tries to conjure up good luck for himself by telling Kevin that if he sinks his shot, he and Vanessa will get back together. He does make the shot — but a huge rat immediately crawls out of the hole, and Kevin remarks, "That can't be good." Turns out, Sonny's belief did turn out to be true From a Certain Point of View: he and Vanessa did get back together (as in, met each other briefly in Vanessa's new place)... but then a loathsome creature — Sid — came between them.
    • When Sonny shows up at the party for Kevin near the beginning of the film, all the other guests mistake him for Kevin and shout "Surprise!" at him (and are therefore much less enthused when the real Kevin arrives a minute later, causing Corinne to complain: "We wasted the good surprise on you! and run into the bathroom to cry). After watching the film a few times, you start to realize that Sonny and Kevin do look a great deal alike except for their hairstyles and Sonny's slightly darker complexion, and this becomes Fridge Brilliance invoked when you connect it to Sonny's scheme later in the film to impersonate Kevin in order to gain custody of Julian (and, indeed, the physical similarity just might have been the reason why Sonny thought the ruse would work in the first place). There's definitely a Doppelgänger theme there.
    • After Julian revealed in court that he was born in Toronto (not Buffalo, which is where he lived with his mother before she died), Kevin is seen thinking about something. Later he confessed that he indeed slept with a woman in Toronto, and unknowingly give birth to Julian.
    • In Julian's mom's letter to Kevin, "I hope you understand why I never told you before until now" and "I can't be his mother anymore".
  • "Friends" Rent Control: Sonny lives in a massive loft apartment despite the fact that he only works one day a week in a toll booth. The film justifies this by noting that he sued a taxi driver for running over his foot and invested the two hundred thousand dollars he was awarded on the stock market.
  • From the Mouths of Babes: According to Julian (or rather Sonny), music critics are "cynical assholes." (Also see the Brick Joke and Cloudcuckoolander entries on this page for more of Julian's, uh, "witticisms.")
  • Fruit of the Loon: The homeless guy somehow sneaks a cantaloupe into the courtroom during the trial.
  • General Ripper: The homeless guy's dad.
    "I'd rather live in the streets than under his freaky-ass rules!"
  • Gilligan Fade: Sonny's father makes him promise not to spend the money from his court settlement on "worthless crap." Sonny agrees — and then, the camera briefly fades out and then fades back in to show Sonny buying a surfboard.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Plenty.
    • When the homeless guy (who, being played by Steve Buscemi, is presumably Italian-American) thinks that the national dish of Nazo's homeland is not truly American — but that spaghetti and meatballs are perfectly American!
    • This exchange:
      Ted Castellucci (the prosecuting attorney): Objection, Your Honor! The court is interested in the truth, not the opinion of the defendant's father.
      Lenny Koufax: You want my opinion? My son is a moron.
      Ted Castellucci: I withdraw my objection. Please proceed!
  • I Will Show You X!: Sonny calls his dad for help because he's stuck with Julian, because his mother passed away but doesn't want him to be put in a "group home"note ; in addition Julian's becoming bothersome, and the only reason Sonny adopted him was to fix his relationship with Vanessa who just broke up with him. His dad tells him to just return Julian to child services before he can "ruin both [their] lives". Fed up with his dad's constant criticism, Sonny decides to keep Julian to prove that he can be a good father to Julian better than Sonny's dad was to him.
    Lenny: That's impossible because all you care about is yourself!
    Sonny: Yeah? Well, I care about you saving money on this phone call! (slams the receiver on the booth)
  • Irishman and a Jew: Kevin Gerrity and Sonny Koufax. The stereotypes are inverted in that Kevin is the serious one and Sonny is the more outgoing and rambunctious. (Ironically, the actor who plays Kevin is himself Jewish.)
  • Ironic Echo: "Did you waste the good surprise on me again?"
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: So many...
    • Sonny makes Hooters jokes to offend Corinne, trips skaters for fun, and yet he is a good friend.
    • Mr. Herlihy, the drunken old man down at the sports bar who tries to pick fights with Sonny but shows up at his trial and calls him a 'good egg'. (Although there's more "jerk" than "gold" with him)
    • Corinne is only nasty to Sonny and only because of the non-stop Hooters jokes.
  • Knight of Cerebus: Arthur Brooks. Not really a villain, but the closest thing this movie has to a full-blown antagonist — and things go from slice-of-life comedy to tense drama really quick when he makes his second appearance in the film.
  • Likes Older Men: Vanessa, apparently. After leaving Sonny, she hooked up with a man who's old enough to be her dad or granddad, due to being more experienced and has a "five-year plan".
  • Malaproper: Nazo believes that George Washington's teeth were made of "wool."
  • The Man Is Sticking It to the Man: Invoked. Once one sees past the emotional aspect of the movie, it's easy to understand what the movie is really trying to portray Sonny Koufax as and that some changes in his life were necessary; as when he gained Julian he started being responsible with him (teaching him to bathe, and helping with schoolwork). Then, when he lost him, he started to re-read law books and reacted like any father would after losing his child.
  • Mathematician's Answer: Sonny asks Julian what he likes to eat and he replies, "Food". Sonny responds that he likes to eat food, too.
  • May–December Romance: Vanessa, who's in her late 20s or early 30s, leaves Sonny for a guy that's old enough to be her father.
  • Moment Killer: Kevin was giving a speech, and tried to tell his girlfriend Corrine something...
    Sonny: You're not proposing, are you?
    Kevin: Yeah, Sonny, I am.
    Sonny: Well, think about it.
    Corrine: God, Sonny, shut up!
    • Corrine got one back when she walked on Sonny and her sister Layla kissing and repulsed by it. Sonny probably realize the irony, so he gets the last laugh by asking Corrine if she bought chicken breasts and booby tassels from the store.
  • Motive Decay: Inverted. Sonny decides to adopt Julian to fix his relationship with Vanessa, plus Kevin was doubtful that Julian is even his son. However, Vanessa left him with another (older) man. After an argument with his dad, Sonny decides to raise Julian to prove to everyone he'll be a great dad. Also, not wanting Julian to be put in an orphanage, Sonny tells child services he'll look after him until they find him a proper home, but soon decided to keep him after all and ignore their calls which soon gets him in real trouble when they learn he's been impersonating Kevin. Thus while he started with less than noble intentions he eventually got better reasons.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Vanessa is shown in her bra (over which she puts a gray suit jacket and nothing else). Then we see her in the standard-issue "Hooters" tank top and orange shorts.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The trailer prominently features The New Radicals' "You Get What You Give" as one of the movie's big pop songs. In fact, "You Get What You Give" isn't in the movie at all!
  • Non-Specifically Foreign: Just where is Nazo from, anyway? Look for the country that eats lamb with tuna fish.
  • Noodle Incident:
    • Kevin's time in Toronto. He got wasted and slept with a girl named Jane who gave birth to Julian. He's forgotten all about it, but Jane obviously didn't.
    • "Is there really a kid there, or is this like the time you told me my parents were dead?"
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Even though Julian was born in Toronto and is genetically half-Canadian, the Sprouse twins don't attempt a Canadian accent while portraying him. Although many would argue that there is little to no distinct "Toronto accent" in the ethnically diverse city, and most white, Canadian-born children in Toronto sound just like Julian, so the Sprouses' portrayal is accurate.
  • Not Helping Your Case: Vanessa wants a more responsible person to marry, which Sonny isn't. When he mocked her ("You need a father figure? Stop pulling your sister's hair!"), she decided to give him some time to think, when in truth she decided right then and there it's over between them.
  • Nothing Is the Same Anymore:
    • Sonny missed the old days when he and his friends had lots of fun, but they're too busy with their own lives and careers for that anymore. Sonny's life has changed as well since meeting Julian.
    Sonny: A kid walked into my life. You think I had that planned? But I fell in love with that kid. So my plans have changed.
    • Also summed up humorously by Kevin:
    Kevin: ...when we were at Syracuse, and Vanessa worshipped you...Nobody was hassling you to get a job, Tommy and Phil were showering separately...
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Sonny, after realizing that Arthur Brooks has just called him by his real name instead of by his roommate's name, which he had been using as his own.
    • Kevin, after he realizes that he's just confessed in front of the entire courtroom (including Corinne) that he is Julian's biological father (and Corinne is not the mother). Corinne forgives Kevin, because he confessed to save Sonny from jail, and also because it happened before they had even met. She's also impressed that Kevin wants to do right by his son, regardless of the consequences.
    • Vanessa does it twice in a row at the beginning of the movie (when she realizes she's late for an appointment, thanks to Sonny):
      Vanessa: [waking up] Shit! [looking at the clock] Shit!
  • Once Done, Never Forgotten: Invoked. No one let Corinne forget that she was a Hooters waitress. Sonny gleefully brings up that Corinne used to work at Hooters whenever he's around her, much to her chagrin. One of their friends makes her admit in court, during testimony, that she used to work there while she was attending medical school.
    Corrine: [under her breath] Asshole...
  • Periphery Hatedom: In-universe example: Sonny absolutely loathes a giant singing kangaroo on a children's video watched by Julian ("I can't take this shit. Are you serious?"). The kangaroo is obviously supposed to be a Captain Ersatz for Barney the Dinosaur, but oddly enough Barney, too, exists in the movie's universe.
  • Personal Arcade: Sonny has a Space Station pinball machine in his apartment.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Okay, so he's not exactly a villain but the homeless guy mentions O. J. Simpson "getting away with murder" when he's called to the witness stand at Sonny's trial — and then looks over at a black juror with a condescending, You Know What They Say About X... attitude.
  • Product Placement: Just one example is the prominent scene at McDonald's that talks about sausage McMuffins, and later on Sonny discreetly bribing someone in a court room with a bag of the stuff.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Arthur Brooks is one in the context of Sonny's life. He's trying to separate Sonny from Julian but only because it's his job and Sonny technically kidnapped the kid. He gets some Pet the Dog moments along the way (such as saying that there is "no greater high" for him than when the original parent accepts custody of the child), as well as in the climactic courtroom scene.
  • Running Gag
    • Julian's inability to control his bodily functions. ("The kid won't stop peeing and throwing up. He's like a cocker spaniel.")
    • The nonstop boob jokes. ("Hooters! Hooters! HOOTERS!")
    • Nazo's difficulty with the English language.
    • "Help me! I'm lost! I don't know where I am!"
    • Mike being disgusted by Tommy and Phil kissing each other, especially in public.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Beautiful!: Julian gets to win every card game he plays because he's a kid and he's cute. His favorite "game," in fact, is called "I Win".
    Nazo: [mad over "losing"] This is bullshit!
  • Shoo Out the Clowns: When Sonny's lie is exposed by Arthur Brooks, the usually comical Nazo becomes a lot more serious, taking Sonny aside and telling them that he'd like to help, but "my status in this country is not exactly legal."
  • Shout-Out: Similar to the infamous industrial revolution metaphor in Sandler's Billy Madison, an impartial judge (this time, one of the law) lambasts the protagonist for what was a charismatic yet ultimately inconsequential emotional plea in place of an actual substantive statement.
    Judge: (slams gavel repeatedly) Mr. Koufax. The fact is you kidnapped this child. Not only shouldn't you get custody, but since you obtained the child by defrauding the state of New York, you should be in jail.
  • Sink or Swim Fatherhood: Sonny has a time and a half trying to figure fatherhood after Julian shows up. Although he has a bit more help than most thanks to Nazo (who, admittedly, is an even worse father figure), Phil and Tommy, and eventually Kevin when he returns from China.
  • Sir Not-Appearing-in-This-Trailer: Jon Stewart. Even though he's the one who indirectly sets the main part of the plot in motion, as well as the one who resolves it in the end.
  • Sitcom Arch-Nemesis: Sonny and Corrine really don't like each other.
  • Small Role, Big Impact:
    • Vanessa is on screen for only about 10 minutes, but hers is one of the very first characters we see, as well as being the person responsible for Sonny adopting Julian in the first place. She's in the final scene, too!
    • Kevin Gerrity is conspicuously missing for most of the film (being on a business trip in China). He didn't even make it into the trailer. Yet the whole plot hinges on Sonny impersonating Kevin, and he's the one who saves Sonny from jail time at the climax. And the fact that he's the real father of Julian.
  • Spiritual Successor: To Charlie Chaplin's 1921 silent classic The Kid, which is also about a derelict adopting a boy after his mother abandons him and then battling social services when they try to take the child from him.
  • Stern Teacher: Julian's teacher, who confronts Sonny about his antisocial habits, is no-nonsense in her tone and language.
  • Stop Copying Me: Instead of turning the tables, Sonny flings the woodchuck Tongue Twister.
  • Sure, Let's Go with That: Sonny's reason for adopting Julian.
    Sonny: I gotta do something big. I think Vanessa will respect that.
    Phil: You think that since women get pregnant to fix a troubled relationship, why can't a guy adopt a kid to do the same?
    Sonny: I didn't think of it like that. But yes, that's what I'm thinking.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome:
    • Sonny learned pretty quickly that being a father is more than just being a cool dad, letting Julian do whatever he wants. When he dropped Julian off at school and was told he was being a serious troublemaker and urinating wherever he pleased, Sonny couldn't believe he let his son be "The smelliest kid in school". He took Julian's teacher's words to heart and stepped up to be a better father from then on.
    • Zigzagged. Sonny calls himself to the witness stand at the trial and has his father cross-examine him in the hope that he can win the court over with an emotional appeal. Miraculously, he persuades Lenny that he has learned his lesson and is now prepared to be a responsible adult. Lenny vouches for his son and everyone in the courtroom applauds — but the judge will not let herself forget that Sonny broke the law and, no matter how contrite he may be now, still deserves to go to jail. Then Kevin Gerrity, as Julian's biological father, refuses to press charges against his roommate, so Sonny walks out of court a free man. However, since he has proven himself to be erratic and untrustworthy, Sonny is refused custody of Julian, who is instead reunited with Kevin. In the end Sonny does get a consolation prize in form of being appointed a mentor and Honorary Uncle to Julian, and he and Layla have had a baby of their own by the time the epilogue rolls around.
  • Technically a Smile: The closest Vanessa comes to smiling in any of her three scenes in the movie is a tight, clenched-toothed, nervous grin when Sonny and Julian visit her apartment (little suspecting that Vanessa's new boyfriend, Sid, is in the bathroom at that very moment).
  • Totally Radical: The judge (a visibly middle-aged woman) says "Awesome!" at the trial. Justified as she was being sarcastic.
  • Wham Line: At the trial.
    Kevin: As that boy's father, I refuse to press charges.
  • "YEAH!" Shot: It's more like a Yum Shot.
  • You Have GOT to Be Kidding Me!: Sonny when he sees Julian's "Kangaroo Song" video.
    Sonny: I can't take this shit, are you serious?
  • Your Princess Is in Another Castle!: Just after Sonny wins his father over to his side in the courtroom, the judge bangs her gavel and it becomes clear that Sonny will go to jail. Then it's time for Kevin to set the stage for the movie's true climax by confessing that he is Julian's biological father.