It’s time to stop being surprised that Adam Sandler can act

You have to take the good with the bad when it comes to Sandler, but his talented turn in The Meyerowitz Stories is far from a revelation.

October 15, 2017

When did we forget Adam Sandler could act? Every so often, articles crop up talking about Adam Sandler’s acting ability. Usually, there’s a touch of annoyance attached to these “hot takes” about the fact that he’s actually quite talented. And these pieces usually appear when he’s attached to a dramatic film or anything outside the realm of films that his production house,  Happy Madison Productions, had a hand in making, like Grown Ups or Jack and Jill.

Recently, a new movie premiered on Netflix called The Meyerowitz Stories, which saw Sandler give one the kind of dramatic performance that reminds you of his skill as an actor. A slow film that takes it time lingering on empty doorframes and faraway looks, there’s an earnestness in the way Sandler lurches after his father (Dustin Hoffman) that feels innocent and childlike. What I saw was a movie full of talented actors clearly having fun and reveling in the fact that they were working together. I also saw Adam Sandler give a performance deserving of praise, regardless of the film’s packaging. But because it’s Sandler, this performance is dragged out like a prized showdog and put on a pedestal; it’s taken as a glimpse of hidden ability instead of an addition to his acting catalogue.

Adam Sandler’s acting ability hasn’t been hiding, and it’s not completely fair to claim that his talent was only recently “found.” There was a time when Sandler weas beloved amongst stand-up comics looking to make the transition to Hollywood. His ascension is well-documented and he’s been the staple of our entertainment diet for decades now, his talent an ongoing thread throughout his work. What began with his Opera Man skit on SNL peaked, to what I like to think is one the most heart wrenching films ever made: Big Daddy. We’ve seen his acting prowess since Waterboy fell into our laps like a wet rag and 50 First Dates revealed an emotional dexterity from the actor that was both poignant and sad. In Funny People, his role as an over-the-hill the comic battling terminal cancer is infused with a striking blend of weariness and subtle cynicism, and now in The Meyerowitz Stories, Sandler embodies the challenges of an emotionally stunted father in such an accurate way that I forgot it was him at times.

For a lot of people, Sandler lives in a pop culture pocket as the king of 90s nostalgia comedy.

But 15 years ago, after a successful run of films that up until that point included The Wedding Singer, Mr. Deeds and Big Daddy, he did what any normal person with a comedic reputation and a natural desire to make money would do: he took seemingly every acting job he was offered, each with varying degrees of success — and acclaim. It’s also at this same time that we witnessed the beginning of what we know as a wanting to watch a Sandler-approved movie today: a confusing mess of Netflix originals and ambitious films like Men, Women and Children, and now again with The Meyerowitz Stories. However, what we know of Adam Sandler usually doesn’t extend beyond casual racism and fart jokes which largely informs the way we talk about his career. For a lot of people, Sandler lives in a pop culture pocket as the king of 90s nostalgia comedy. Much of his best works, like Punch Drunk Love, are regarded as place and time cult classics, often anchoring the perception of Sandler in the same era. But then, ever so often, there’s the serious hullabaloo about his acting only because our idea of Sandler hasn’t grown in time.  

So it does no one any good to begrudgingly admit that Adam Sandler is talented — there are more than enough examples as proof. Because to be honest, the Adam Sandler of today is no different than the king of comedy he used to be. Older and wiser maybe, but still making the same movies for the same audience, now just for an audience that has also grown older and wiser. And on occasion, we’re treated to a performance that shows that Adam Sandler still gets it and he’s capable of something more.

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