There are few things actors hate more than being typecast. Just about every Disney kid star tries to amp up the sex appeal once they got older. Robert Pattinson seemed doomed to forever be remembered as a sparkly vampire. Instead, he has taken on serious roles that have given him much acclaim. Leslie Nielsen was known as a serious dramatic actor before Airplane!
The most common attempt to play against type is by comedic actors who try to emulate Robin Williams. The former star of Mork & Mindy was known for his comedic roles until winning an Academy Award for Good Will Hunting. Will Ferrell, Steve Carrell, and Jim Carrey have all tried to make the transition with mixed results. But by far, the most polarizing attempts have been by Adam Sandler.
Sandler is a mega star whose name on the marquee is all but guaranteed to pack theaters. His long career has seen the most dizzying highs and the most depressing lows. He has starred in comedy classics like Happy Gilmore and is responsible for complete duds like Jack and Jill. Not only does the former Saturday Night Live star have a prolific career, he has had a polarizing one.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the dramatic roles that Sandler has taken over the years. These are not one or two he has just done for the heck of it. He has actually been in quite a number of these more serious movies. Even more surprising is the critical praise he has gotten for these parts.
Sandler’s first foray into more dramatic fare was 2002’s Punch-Drunk Love. The good news for Sandler was the movie was directed by one of the greatest directors of modern times in Paul Thomas Anderson. The fact that it was also a comedy-drama instead of being just a straight drama also helped. Still, this was new territory for the former waterboy and many were surprised by his performance.
Sandler proved this was not just a random occurrence by impressing audiences in Judd Apatow’s Funny People. Again, it was a comedy drama. This time things were a little different. Many found the movie and Sandler himself to be overrated. They were okay, but not all that great. This happened again, in 2019’s Uncut Gems. Except this time, the story was a straight drama without the comedy.
This all leads to a very interesting question. Should Adam Sandler ditch comedy? He has been financially secure for decades. However, he peaked a long time ago creatively. Chances are he will never reach the heights of Billy Madison. He is in an odd space where his legacy is secure enough to where he can afford to keep putting out unfunny crap, but, ironically, he is also seen as a joke.
Conversely, as he has lowered the bar for what people expect of him as a comedian, he may have also improved how people look at him as a dramatic actor. While his performance in Uncut Gems is good, it was not worthy of an Oscar. (He was not even nominated.) But from the star of You Don’t Mess with the Zohan it is an absolute masterpiece.
There is no reason for Adam Sandler to give up on comedy. (Though a strong argument can be made he already did that years ago.) As a matter of fact, he should ramp up his output and release a few more of them a year. He is the rare actor who cannot tarnish his name any further whose movies audiences still want to see. Most importantly, they trick people into believing he is a great actor.
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