Sandler built his brand as the loveable misfit with slapstick hits like Happy Gilmore and Billy Madison, and his dramatic characters are often a muted and more complex version of that archetype he knows so well. They’re kind-hearted schmos, often family men, who’ve been wrung dry by illness or tragedy (sometimes of their own making).
In a more ‘serious’ actor’s hands, those performances could easily be overwrought. But with Sandler, always still armed with an offhand joke or outlandish outburst, it’s unpretentious – and in recent years it’s only gotten better.
In 2019, Sandler gave what’s widely acknowledged as the “performance of his career”. His portrayal of compulsive gambler Howard Ratner in the Safdie brothers’ Uncut Gems was so transfixing and electric he was seen as a lock for an Oscar nomination. (Seriously if you haven’t watched, get on it).
But when the list came out, he was nowhere to be found. And Academy members were pretty open about the fact that his reputation had likely let him down.
One unnamed actor told the New York Post that, though Sandler’s performance was “a tour de force”, other members might not have bothered to watch the film and instead judge on his “cheesy Netflix comedies”.
“Unfortunately, actors become brands,” he said. “Sandler’s brand doesn’t scream ‘Oscar’.”
It’s true that Sandler has made some terrible movies (I have zero defense for things like Jack and Jill and The Ridiculous 6). But that’s no reason to ignore his obvious talents, and doing so shows a really limited understanding of his ‘brand’.
Good acting isn’t about being the most actor. Really, it’s the exact opposite. It’s about capturing something honest and lively and relatable – and Sandler does that better than most.