Adam Sandler has never been a critical darling (even his kids aren’t fans), but reviews for his films have been especially unkind since 2010. He’s starred in 12 live-action movies since then, only one of which (Jason Reitman’s Men, Women, & Children) has a Rotten Tomatoes score over 30 percent. Even the best of his three Netflix movies, Sandy Wexler, is only at 28 percent.
Sandler is unquestionably talented, as anyone who’s giggled their way through Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore or marveled at his stunning performance in Punch Drunk Love knows, but he’s too often content with mediocrity, at best, or doesn’t care, at worst. But when he does try, look out.
Sandler is receiving career-best reviews for his role in Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on Sunday night. The Netflix comedy-drama, which also stars Ben Stiller, Emma Thompson, and Dustin Hoffman, is about an estranged family of New York intellectuals getting back together. According to the Hollywood Reporter, it “received an enthusiastic standing ovation… clocking in at four minutes.” Sandler, in particular, is being praised by nearly every critic who saw the film.
With no shtick to fall back on, Sandler is forced to act, and it’s a glorious thing to watch — even for those fans who like him best in perpetual man-child mode (don’t worry: the character is a full-grown variation on that familiar Sandler prototype).
Hoffman indisputably rules the roost as the irascible genius in his own mind, giving snap and innuendo to his readings that further up the ante provided by his egotistical pronouncements and cutting comments. Right behind, surprisingly enough, is Sandler, who has spent most of his career hiding the fact that he can hold his own and more with the likes of his co-stars here; it’s a legitimately fine and felt presentation of a modern sad sack.
Sandler, in particular, is asked to go places he hasn’t been as an actor since Punch-Drunk Love — and he gets there so seemingly effortlessly, and with such comedic precision and control of sentiment (the way he plays Danny’s relationship with his daughter is delightful), you wonder what it would take for him to do it more often.
It also must be emphasized that all bad Adam Sandler movies are alike, and every good Adam Sandler movie (which, for this critic, is not many) will broadside you in its own way. Sandler, who plays Danny, the less-successful son of sculptor Harold Meyerowitz (Hoffman), has not been this well utilized since Punch-Drunk Love.
And it made Adam Sandler seem perfectly suited to the Cannes Film Festival, which is an accomplishment all by itself.
He even dressed up for the occasion.
That’s how you know it’s Serious Sandler, not Sweatpants Sandler.