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Spotlight on the Stars: Adam Sandler

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For this week’s spotlight piece, I wanted to sort of go back to the start of the series and take a look at someone who doesn’t get the respect that they deserve from the masses. Today, that person is Adam Sandler, one of the kings of comedy who also has a flair for drama when he decides to go that route. He’s a huge titan of studio comedy, for sure, but he’s got a load of talent for when he chooses to get serious. The laughs have shot him to the A-list, but when he’s gone for depth and emotion, he’s shown that he’s got some acting chops as well. He’s rather underrated overall, so a spotlight today is definitely in the cards for him.

Sandler got his start towards the A-list through television when he was cast on Saturday Night Live after a short stint on The Cosby Show. That established him as a jokester, something he’d transfer to the big screen with Airheads before actually getting to be the lead in Billy Madison. That was the start of “Adam Sandler”, with Happy Gilmore and a detour to action comedy with Bulletproof to follow. Sandler was starting to become “Sandler”.

He continued to become one of the biggest names in comedy with hits like Big Daddy, The Waterboy, and The Wedding Singer. He also had his first non blockbusters in Eight Crazy Nights and Little Nicky, as well as a successful return to form in Mr. Deeds. The most notable thing he did during that time however was attempt drama with Punch Drunk Love.

Sandler gets most of his respect through his serious performances. The aforementioned Punch Drunk Love was the first time he really showed how well he could pull it off (trusting Paul Thomas Anderson, which is never a bad idea), but since then he’s taken time out periodically to play it straight, always to great effect. Funny People, Reign Over Me, and Spanglish have represented some of his best performances. He sandwiches them around comedic performances in films like 50 First Dates, Anger Management, Bedtime Stories, Blended, Click, Grown Ups, Grown Ups 2, Hotel Transylvania, I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, Jack and Jill, Just Go With It, The Longest Yard, That’s My Boy, and You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, but the movies where he doesn’t just go for the laughs are the ones where you really appreciate his talents.

This week, he’s a part of the ensemble cast of Jason Reitman’s Men, Women & Children, perhaps my favorite film of the year so far. Sandler gives one of his best dramatic performances in the movie, disappearing into the role of an adulterous husband and porn addict in a way that he never has previously. There’s no bit of his comedy persona to be found here whatsoever. It’s a rather tragic role, in fact, something he successfully tried before with Funny People and Reign Over Me, but this is his clearest performance to date. There’s no “Sandler” there, just the character of Don Truby.

His talents also extend to writing as well. Over a dozen of his comedies have him credited as a co-writer, so he’s active in developing his material. I’d love to see him take that talent and pursue more of a serious project, perhaps something in the realm of what Anderson did for him with Punch Drunk Love or Judd Apatow did with Funny People, but I’m hardly he’s agent…just someone who loves when he goes a little darker. I’m sure if he gave it a shot, the end result would be extremely compelling.

Overall, Sandler is someone who gets a bum deal at times and has the potential to turn in very strong work both dramatically as well as comedically. He’s got another interesting turn still to come next year in The Cobbler, with big budget Pixels likely seeing him in his safe zone. Hopefully this year has gotten him to renew his interest in drama and dramedy, since I think he could one day become an Academy Award nominee. Hell, he might be in contention this year for Men, Women & Children. Regardless, he’s a better actor than he’s given credit for and deserved this tribute, so I was pleased to give it to him…

Stay tuned for another look at an A-lister next week!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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