I speak, of course, of Adam Sandler.
That’s right: The Sandman is a uniter, not a divider. He’s currently the favorite of both the smart set and the populist populace, if headlines are to be believed. He recently delivered the biggest five-day opening in indie darling studio A24’s history, leading “Uncut Gems” to $18.8 million at the box office after the movie became more widely available. This isn’t the film’s only accomplishment: “Uncut Gems” generated an impressive $107,000 per screen during the first week of its limited release.
Sandler is deservedly getting buzz for an Oscar for his role as Howard Ratner, a gambling junkie trying to juggle his work life, his home life and his addiction while struggling to sell a massive opal that Kevin Garnett, playing himself, has absconded with after being convinced it is a good-luck charm. His performance here is electric, and the drama flows naturally from the manic comedy that has so defined his career. The twitchiness that defines the character and the mood swings that make him feel real are natural outgrowths of the goofy guy we of a certain generation grew up cheering for in “Billy Madison” and “Happy Gilmore.”
This isn’t the first time the onetime “Saturday Night Live” star has been lauded with praise for going serious: “Punch-Drunk Love” and “Funny People” earned him similar plaudits, though neither, sadly, resulted in an Oscar nomination.
If Sandler is shut out from Oscar gold again, he’ll just have to comfort himself with the knowledge that the people love him even more than the elites. Netflix announced this week that “Murder Mystery,” a whodunit starring Sandler, Jennifer Aniston and Luke Evans, was the most-watched original program on the streaming service last year.
As always with Netflix’s numbers, one must note a series of caveats: We are being asked to simply trust what the service reports, and the numbers are based on a bizarrely limited metric (“subscribers who watched at least two minutes of a series, movie or special during its first 28 days on the streaming service,” according to CNN). Still, the fact that this is a ranking — showing how the service measures each individual property against the other — makes it more interesting than the specific numbers the service occasionally lets escape from its black hole of stats.
Sandler plays a character who is almost the exact opposite of Ratner in this movie. Here he’s calmer and more subdued as Nick Spitz, a cop who is lying to his wife, Audrey (Aniston), about having made detective. Granted, there are still Sandlerian moments — no one can yell in exasperation quite like the Sandman — but this is a looser, riffier thing than “Uncut Gems.” You get the sense that everyone was having a good time making this whodunit about the Spitzes trying to solve the murder of a patriarch who cut his family out of the will at the behest of an interloping seductress as the cast traveled across Europe on a luxury yacht.
Whereas “Uncut Gems” demands to be seen in a theater, where you can’t pause or change the channel to escape the tension it unleashes, “Murder Mystery” is the sort of movie that helps pass the time during a perfectly pleasant evening in. It’s a “kids in bed, work’s done, nothing but repeats on TV” sort of movie: You wouldn’t necessarily go see it in movie theaters, but it’s a pleasant enough time to take in at home. It’s got some laughs, it’s kind of sweet, it features luxurious locales, it’s not too challenging. It’s pleasant!
Sandler was one of the first megastars to sign on with Netflix — ahead of the Coen Brothers, ahead of Martin Scorsese — and the gambit has paid off for him. He’s got a home base for his work for the masses. He can still freelance with prestige filmmakers such as the Safdie Brothers and prestige studios such as A24. He effortlessly bridges the divide between slob and snob.
He is the hero we need right now. Let us hope that the awards-season tastemakers are paying attention.