Before "Uncut Gems": Why Does Adam Sandler Choose Bad Movies?

The Sandman will remind the world why he's one of today's best working actors in Uncut Gems.

Adam Sandler

Rodin Eckenroth via Getty Images

With his role in the Safdie Brothers' Uncut Gems, Adam Sandler is ready to make his Oscars push. More importantly, Sandler is reminding the world that he's one of the world's best actors.

Adam Sandler is a modern day Renaissance Man. The 53-year-old first made us laugh as "Opera Man" and "Canteen Boy" on Saturday Night Live. Then, he serenaded us with his witty verses and smooth guitar playing on "The Hanukkah Song" and in The Wedding Singer. Sandler has become one of the biggest box office stars of the last 30 years, with his movies grossing over $2 billion worldwide.

Now, Sandler is positioned to be in contention for Best Actor at the Oscars thanks to his upcoming role in Uncut Gems. Sandler stars as Howard Ratner, a jewelry store owner and dealer to the rich and famous in the diamond district of New York City. When his merchandise is taken from one of his top sellers, Ratner must find a way to pay his debts. The growing consensus around Sandler's performance is that it's one of the best of his career and will most certainly be a factor this awards season.

Uncut Gems | Official Trailer HD | A24

While Sandler is known for his comedic roles, it's his dramatic turns that are most impressive. In particular, Sandler excels as a psychologically troubled entrepreneur who falls in love with an English woman in 2002's Punch Drunk Love; in 2009, he embodied a depressed, terminally ill comedian who tries to fix the relationships in his life in Funny People. Both performances were met with critical acclaim and proved that Sandler could reach dramatic depths as an actor.

But as talented as Sandler is, he's equally as frustrating with his career choices. Sandler poignantly played a man who lost his family in 9/11 in Reign Over Me, but he also played an alcoholic, dimwitted father in the disturbing That's My Boy. Sandler beautifully played a divorcé who must confront his personal failures in The Meyerowitz Stories, which makes it hard to believe he's the same actor who played a set of twins (one of them female) trying to reconnect with one another in the awful Jack and Jill.

One obvious reason why Sandler continues to do silly and critically panned films: They make money. Sandler signed four-picture deals with Netflix in 2015 and 2017, respectively. Regardless of the movies' quality, it seems that Netflix users keep watching Sandler's movies. While 2016's The Ridiculous 6 has a 0% on Rotten Tomatoes, it was the most-watched movie on Netflix in the first 30 days of release at the time. His most recent work for Netflix, Murder Mystery, which received mixed to negative reviews, had the biggest opening weekend ever for the streaming service, with over 30 million accounts tuning in.

But there's a reason why some of the best directors in the world work with Sandler; when Sandler turns on that switch from silly to dramatic, magic can happen. Academy Award-nominated director Paul Thomas Anderson ( Punch-Drunk Love) and Academy Award winner James L. Brooks (Spanglish) both crafted entire films around Sandler. Judd Apatow (Funny People) cast Sandler because of his dramatic turn in Reign Over Me. Noah Baumbach (The Meyerowitz Stories), who will be in the awards race this year with Marriage Story, helped garner Sandler some of the greatest reviews of his career. Clearly, some of the most talented and well-respected filmmakers today work with Sandler because he's a phenomenal actor. Too bad he has a history of choosing bizarre and preposterous cash grabs, as well as meaningful roles.

Maybe Sandler will go back to making terrible and unfunny films like Jack and Jill after this year. Maybe he won't, and Uncut Gems could start a career revival for Sandler as a dramatic powerhouse. Either way, we'll never fully heal from seeing him play his own, frumpy twin.

Adam Sandler playing two roles in Jack and Jill Adam Sandler in Jack and JillSony Pictures Entertainment


In "Paper Tiger," Bill Burr Proves He's No Dave Chappelle

The difference between Paper Tiger and Sticks and Stones is that Chappelle's content actually has bite. Burr's material, on the other hand, feels toothless.


No doubt about it, Bill Burr is a very talented comedian.

Burr knows how to set up a joke and land a punchline. He knows how to shift a story to keep a joke running. And when an audience member heckles him, he knows how to shut them down. Love it or hate it, Bill Burr's new Netflix special, Paper Tiger, is certainly a well-crafted hour of stand-up comedy. But is well-crafted comedy necessarily funny? That's debatable.

Burr's title, Paper Tiger, refers to something that appears powerful or threatening but in reality is fragile and weak. Within the context of Burr's special, it holds two potential meanings: The phrase could either refer to Burr's role as an "angry" comedian whose jokes don't actually hold any real-world import or to the primary target of this special's ire––"PC culture" and the white women (and emasculated men) who Burr accuses of fueling it.

Inevitably, Burr's special will be compared to Dave Chappelle's incredibly controversial Sticks and Stones, which aired on Netflix just a few weeks prior and also largely revolved around confronting PC culture. Like Chappelle's special, Paper Tiger will almost definitely receive some degree of outrage over its subject matter. Or, at least that's what Netflix wants you to think. After all, controversy generates impressions.

Bill Burr: Paper Tiger | Official Trailer | Netflix

Except, the difference between Paper Tiger and Sticks and Stones is that Dave Chappelle's content actually has bite. Burr's material, on the other hand, feels toothless. And while that might be the entire goal of a stand-up special titled "Paper Tiger," it doesn't exactly make for vibrant comedy. That's not to say Burr's jokes aren't funny. I laughed a number of times during his special. But none of it was particularly memorable, either.

Before going further, I want to make one thing crystal clear. Comedians should never be "canceled" over the jokes in their sets. For comedy to function as an art form, the stage needs to function almost like a "safe space" of sorts. Great comedy often pushes societal boundaries, and considering how intertwined comedy is with the social climate in which it exists, some jokes will age incredibly poorly (assuming they don't arrive stillborn in the first place). With that being said, comedy is always subject to criticism. A joke being "just a joke" does not make it immune from commentary, discussion, and judgment. If anything, good comedy should provoke thought.

Thought-provoking comedy is an area where Dave Chappelle has always thrived. Even when he's absolutely, 100% punching down, as he does multiple times in Sticks and Stones, his comedy always feels like it's wrestling with ideas and social structures that go beyond just a simple punchline. His impression bit wherein he fakes out the audience and rails against them for holding anything anyone ever does against them (leading into a defense of Michael Jackson, even if he did molest kids) was brilliant, holding up a mirror to the audience to force them to contemplate where their sentiments fall.

Dave Chappelle's Impressions Are Insanely Accurate | Netflix Is A Joke

And yes, people still have every right to be offended by and critique the jokes for which he punches down. One might even argue that the thought-provoking nature of Chappelle's work makes his "problematic" jokes all the more impactful, as they're clearly more than simple observation––Chappelle has thought things through, and that's where he landed.

Burr spends a lot of time in his set punching down, too, but while a number of his jokes might induce laughter, they all seem geared towards a very specific boomer mentality––one wherein white women who care about social issues are big hypocrites, guys who care about those same things are big p*ssies who just want to get laid, and deep down, nobody actually cares about anything, no matter what they say. It's the same sentiment you can find all over boomer Facebook, albeit in neater, funnier, less word salad-y packaging. But Burr never goes much deeper than that.

At times, he gets close. One particularly stand out bit sees Burr arguing with his wife about whether or not Elvis appropriated black culture. His wife is black, and their perspectives clash. He concedes points––indeed, she's right, Elvis did take influence from black artists who never received anything close to the credit he did––but ultimately concludes that those black artists must have appropriated their stuff from someone else. Right? The joke could have done something transcendent, toeing the line of a white perspective against a black perspective and ending with an epiphany. Instead, Burr reaffirms the status quo and the joke lands flat.

Unfortunately, a lot of Burr's material doesn't even make it that far, oftentimes teetering on hackey lines of comedy that were done to death by the late '90s, akin to "men are like this, women are like this." For instance, Burr does a bit about how men wouldn't need women if there were sex robots, which I'm fairly certain I saw summarized in a poorly photoshopped Facebook meme over a decade ago. But Burr's delivery was good, so I laughed. The joke was still lazy.

Part of the issue might come down to Burr's ideology surrounding comedy. Whereas Chappelle has built his career around satirizing social institutions, Burr strongly believes that comedy doesn't actually matter. He's wrong. Great comedians influence thought. I can't even count the number of times I've been talking about an issue with someone and they've quoted a comedian on the topic––usually George Carlin or Dave Chappelle or Louis C.K. (at least before he was canceled).

That's because, a lot of the time, comedians put people's dissonant thoughts and feelings into words. Oftentimes, putting something into words cements it as an idea, and comedians spread ideas just as well as the best writers. If comedy doesn't matter, then nothing matters. And if "nothing matters" is Burr's comedic thesis, then maybe it's no wonder that Paper Tiger is largely void of substance.