This week, based on the headlines about his new film, The Meyerowitz Stories, which recently premiered at Cannes, you’d think that Adam Sandler has been living in a box somewhere and that he’s never made a “good” movie in his life. The fact that he primarily works in comedy, a genre that never gets any sort of love during awards season (Groundhog Day, anybody?), meaning that he is not a thespian, doesn’t help, either. Now, however, it seems that all bets are off: Sandler’s acting in The Meyerowitz Stories—the new Noah Baumbach-directed film about “an estranged family gathers together in New York for an event celebrating the artistic work of their father”—is being described as a “career-defining turn.”
According to The Internet, the 50-year-old actor has apparently turned the tables on his critics in a performance (alongside Dustin Hoffman and Ben Stiller) that is generating Oscar buzz(!), because, oh my, the dude can act like a serious person. (We already knew that, given Punch-Drunk Love and, I’d argue, Reign Over Me, which might have suffered because of over-acting). The film apparently received a four-minute standing-O at Cannes, where it enjoyed a world premiere (and where movie people do not like Netflix).
Sandler is an easy target. He’s mailed it in and hasn’t been in anything good in ages, the criticism generally goes, as evidenced above. Even his kids aren’t into his flicks. In April, he told Ellen DeGeneres that he shows them his movies and less than 30 minutes in, they ask him, “Can we watch something else?”
Sandler is currently flush, having signed on with Netflix for what will ultimately be an eight-movie deal. His latest release, Sandy Wexler, about a Los Angeles talent manager, was heartfelt, but Wexler himself felt like an underdeveloped mash-up of Sandler character of decades past, and the film ran about 40 minutes too long (two hours and 10 minutes for a Sandler movie? C’mon now). Prior to playing Wexler he starred in The Do-Over, a crummy, weakly-produced action flick alongside his buddy David Spade, whose character was basically a kinder version of Richard from Tommy Boy. And the list—The Ridiculous 6, Pixels, Just Go With It, The Cobbler (all of which I imagine you’ve never even heard of)—goes on. For what it’s worth, I would argue that Sandler has made decent movies since You Don’t Mess With the Zohan, which, in my circles, is generally regarded as his last funny movie. But, like, That’s My Boy and Grown Ups 2 are perfectly fine options on a rainy Saturday morning.
Fine as Sandler’s performance in The Meyerowitz Stories may be, I think it’s unfair to portray his acting chops as some sort of revelation. Same goes for portraying Sandler as an actor who has finally made a good film again. Just because Sandler hasn’t yet become Bill Murray—who really only became Bill Murray once he took on Steve Zissou and Broken Flowers-type roles—doesn’t mean that he should. So just let Sandler be Adam Sandler, people, in all of his underdeveloped talent, and enjoy the show. He’ll get to where you want him to be some day. And if not, go watch him be a perverted Israeli barber and lighten up.
Jonathan Zalman is a writer and teacher based in Brooklyn.