In light of his critically-lauded role in Uncut Gems, Food&Drink Editor Gabrielle Taylor-Dowson takes a look back at the highs and lows of Adam Sandler’s decades-spanning career

Images by A24

Uncut Gems, that 100-miles-per-hour, anxiety-inducing rollercoaster of a film, is the reason why people are talking about Adam Sandler again. This is because a lot of what makes the Safdie film so enthralling, so great, is that Sandler plays his part so well. But Sandler does a lot more good than people realise. Despite what you may think of the actor as a person, of his career, Sandler can act. And I predict that movie-goers haven’t even seen the best of him yet.

Sandler in Happy Gilmore gives audiences a genuinely great comedic performance

I’m not completely blinded by Sandler-love, either. I know he’s been in some bad films – some horrific films in my opinion (please see Click and Pixels as evidence.) I don’t just find these films bad because they’ve got a silly plotline, or lazy characterisation; they’re bad because it shows Sandler at his laziest, when he really isn’t trying to play anyone else but himself. I kind of admire him for how little he seems to care about what people think, but it is especially annoying when you compare it to some of his best performances, from the unexpectedly brilliant angry goofball in Happy Gilmore, to two of his very few and far between serious performances (Danny Meyerowitz in The Meyerowitz Stories, and Barry Egan in Punch Drunk Love).

Happy Gilmore might not strike you as a film that would allow an actor to display their genius. But, in the words of Howard Ratner, ‘I disagree.’ Sandler in Happy Gilmore gives audiences a genuinely great comedic performance. To me, at least, it’s hilarious. But I think that Sandler knew exactly what he was doing with this role; it’s self-aware. Sandler understands the tone, context, and characters in this movie – he takes all this, bumps it all up a notch, makes you feel like he knows it’s meant to be kind of stupid, and as a result you have a great time and fall in love with a character who, in anyone else’s hands, would not have been so charming. The jokes feel planned out and purposeful, and it’s a great example of Sandler’s universal appeal: Dads think of him as a buddy, Mums don’t find him too offensive, and kids see him as that silly Uncle (this is also why Sandler often does so well at the box office).

Sandler’s too-loud yelling is a classic Sandlerism

The Meyerowitz Stories is the first of Sandler’s dramatic roles that I will use to show why he is an actor who deserves more praise. Firstly, it’s a Noah Baumbach film, and if you’re in a Baumbach film you already know that you’ve made it. Second, and more seriously now, this film has a lot of great actors in it (Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman) but Sandler, no matter who the focus is on, manages to control the tone of the scene himself. Not steal, he never steals the scene, despite how loud he can be (and Sandler’s too-loud yelling is a classic Sandlerism), he simply controls it, making his own performance extremely raw and grounded whilst not overshadowing the other characters. A performance does not end with line delivery, and in a way that is completely the opposite of many of his lazier performances (again, see Pixels as evidence), Sandler is always switched on in this film, even when he is in the background.

Now, PTA’s Punch Drunk Love feels like the film Sandler was born to be in. It is almost sad that this career best (in my opinion, of course), came so early on in Sandler’s career, but also not sad, because then this beautiful film would have never been made. The character Barry Egan that Sandler plays is a constant whirl of just-under-the-surface emotion, but Sandler never makes it too overdramatic or over-the-top (and we know he can do this and he does it a lot in most of his comedic performances.) The way Sandler moves from anger to eagerness, all while keeping that underlying feeling of anxiety and depression, is sensational. Unlike the intense realism of The Mereyowitz Stories, this is surrealism, as Sandler captures universal response and emotions in a person who does not exist; it’s vibrant, colourful and exciting. I’m running out of adjectives, but you get my point.

I like to think of Sandler as the people’s celebrity

Right now, as aforementioned, Sandler’s latest film Uncut Gems has been met with universal praise by critics and audiences like. It was unjustifiably snubbed by this year’s Oscars, and while that is frustrating, I like to think of Sandler as the people’s celebrity. He’s not Hollywood royalty by any stuffy, middle-aged white man in a suit’s standards, but he is by almost everyone who watches his movies. And when he puts on an amazing dramatic performance, it’s like he’s gifting his fans with something great. Whilst also simultaneously giving the middle-finger to those Hollywood film snobs, because he can do both (drama and comedy): he just chooses to do what he wants on his own terms.

Uncut Gems is now streaming on Netflix.

Image courtesy of A24. All rights reserved.