Adam Sandler’s best work as an actor has been in comedies: Punch-Drunk Love, Funny People, Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), and, now, the upcoming Uncut Gems. But it’s not just genre that sets these films apart from the rest of his filmography.
It’s that these films are made by auteurs—Paul Thomas Anderson, Judd Apatow, Noah Baumbach, and the Safdie brothers, respectively—who are not simply telling stories, but crafting productions that teem with their perspectives, not only with the screenplay and direction, but also editing, music, costuming, casting, and cinematography.
When Sandler is directed by people who not only have a strong sense of what’s funny but have imbued each of their films with a carefully developed vision, his instincts as a performer find a home. He holds both the comedic and depressive, hopeful and defeated, and passive and aggressive in every look, line, and gesture. This kind of elevation-via-auteur isn’t particular to Sandler: There is, for example, Cedric the Entertainer in Paul Schrader’s First Reformed; Melissa McCarthy in Marielle Heller’s Can You Ever Forgive Me? and Kristen Wiig in Heller’s The Diary of a Teenage Girl; Jim Carrey in Peter Weir’s The Truman Show; and Emma Thompson in Kenneth Branagh’s Shakespeare, Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility (which she wrote), and Merchant and Ivory’s E.M. Forster adaptations.
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