The Redemption of Adam Sandler

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The Redemption of Adam Sandler

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Nick Spake
When and how did Adam Sandler start generating Oscar buzz? For this video, we'll be looking at how Adam Sandler left behind bad movies like "Jack and Jill" and "Grown Ups" for more adult fare like "Uncut Gems." Our look at Adam Sandler's career includes "Uncut Gems," "Punch-Drunk Love," Oscar buzz, and more!
Transcript

The Redemption of Adam Sandler


Written by Nick Spake

When and how did this guy go from being a Razzie regular to generating Oscar buzz? Welcome to WatchMojo and today we’ll be discussing the redemption of Adam Sandler.

Although he previously starred in the critically-panned film entitled “Going Overboard,” it was “Saturday Night Live” that launched the Sandman into popularity at the dawn of the 1990s. Depending who you asked, Sandler was either the sketch comedy’s funniest cast member or the most obnoxious. Sandler’s critics were quick to point out his similar characters and tendency to break in sketches. His fans, however, appreciated his unique comedic timing in classic skits like “Canteen Boy” and “Lunch Lady Land,” not to mention “The Chanukah Song.” Alas, NBC seemed to side with Sandler’s haters.


Although he was still under contract for two more years, Sandler was fired from “SNL” in 1995 along with his castmate Chris Farley. The exact reasons for Sandler’s termination remain debatable, although Lorne Michaels was apparently pressured to raise ratings by bringing in new cast members. The tipping point may’ve been Sandler and Farely’s childish antics, which have been rumored to include mooning people in a limo and making prank calls. While NBC kicked him off the small screen, Sandler would find greater success on the big screen.

Sandler cemented his star power with “Billy Madison” and “Happy Gilmore,” both of which went on to become cult classics and provided the namesake for his production company, Happy Madison. Even “Bulletproof,” one of his more forgettable films, opened #1 at the box office. With “The Wedding Singer,” “The Waterboy,” and “Big Daddy,” Sandler headlined three comedies in a row that grossed over $100 million. For audiences, particularly millennials, these remain some of the funniest and most quotable movies of the 90s. Critics, however, just didn’t get Sandler’s wacky brand of humor, making him synonymous with one-star film reviews.

Director Paul Thomas Anderson was a fan of Sandler’s comedies, including “Happy Gilmore” and “Big Daddy.” Although Variety dubbed Sandler “the king of moronic farce,” Anderson saw untapped potential, casting him as the shy, withdrawn Barry Egan in the romantic dramedy, “Punch-Drunk Love.” In this film, Sandler played a generally nice guy who’s prone to sudden, violent outbursts. But unlike Sandler’s previous roles, Anderson brought out a raw humanity in Sandler audiences had never seen before. It was a role that played to Sandler’s acting strengths while also bringing out his unexpected dramatic range. Even critics like Roger Ebert, who had never given Sandler a positive review before, praised his performance, which earned him a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy.

Although “Punch-Drunk Love” was critically acclaimed, audiences just weren’t interested. That said year, more people paid to see Sandler in “Mr. Deeds,” although critics panned that film for its predictable story and lowbrow humor. Since comedic Sandler was easier to sell than serious Sandler, he naturally returned to more mainstream comedies like “Anger Management,” “I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry,” and “The Longest Yard.” Every once in a while, Sandler would still stretch his acting muscles, playing a loving father in “Spanglish” and a man suffering from PTSD in “Reign Over Me.” Sandler seemingly tried to please both sides with “Click,” but, like with many of his previous comedies, it did not fair well with critics.

On the other hand, “Funny People” was an interesting reflection of Sandler’s life. He played George Simmons, a comedian recently diagnosed with cancer who, although he possesses talent, chooses to waste it on idiotic comedies. Sound familiar? In the end, Simmons beats cancer, but doesn’t seem to really learn much following the experience. If anything, it’s strongly suggested that he’s going to continue his cycle of self-destructive behavior. Something similar can be said about Sandler’s career trajectory. Every time he took a step forward with a challenging role or even a relatively funny movie like “50 First Dates,” he fell back on old habits with lame comedies like “Grown Ups” and “Just Go with It.”

Despite no longer being a guaranteed box office draw, Sandler’s leap to Netflix proved that he still had a following. “The Ridiculous 6,” “The Do-Over,” and “The Week Of” got trashed by critics, but proved successful for the streaming service regardless. “Murder Mystery,” which received mixed reviews, went on to become the most popular Netflix title of 2019. In fact, not all of Sandler’s Netflix collaborations have been critical duds. “The Meyerowitz Stories' ' once again proved that he’s not only funny, but truly gifted as an actor. Sandler returned to his stand-up roots with “100% Fresh,” eluding to notoriously low scores on Rotten Tomatoes. Shortly after that, Sandler hosted “SNL” for the first time. Between “100% Fresh” and “SNL,” Sandler earned two Primetime Emmy nominations in 2019.

Sandler was finally charming audiences and critics simultaneously. His winning streak accumulated with “Uncut Gems,” a crime thriller directed by the Safdie brothers. Sandler played Howard Ratner, a compulsive gambler slowly but surely digging his own grave. While we have seen Sandler give great performances before, this was arguably the first time that we had seen him portray a character with such energy, almost channeling a younger Al Pacino. Winning Best Actor at the National Board of Review, Sandler seemed poised for an Oscar nomination. Like Jennifer Lopez, Eddie Murphy, and other actors who made a comeback that year, though, Sandler got no love from the Academy. Sandler took the snub in stride, tweeting that he could at least stop wearing suits.

Oscar nomination or not, “Uncut Gems” may mark a new beginning for a more mature Sandler. Of course, we thought the same thing after “Punch-Drunk Love” and his other dramatic turns. Sandler even said that if he didn’t get an Oscar nomination, he’d make a bad movie on purpose. Then again, Sandler did also reteam with the Safdies for a six-minute short entitled “Goldman v Silverman,” suggesting that he may not be done with the indie scene. Whether his next project is funny, dramatic, experimental, or intentionally awful, we have a feeling that Sandler will keep things fresh.
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You got to include his later movies like Jack and jill, That's My Boy, Grown Ups 2, Blended and Pixels