In Noah Baumbach's new film, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), Adam Sandler, perhaps for the very first time, sports a mustache. It is by design: The frustratingly uneven actor, aged 51, this time out, plays an adult – not his typical rage-filled manchild or mentally impaired individual. The evolution of the Happy Gilmore thespian has been fitful. As Baumbach's film premieres on Netflix this weekend, The Globe and Mail presents the highlights and low steps of Sandler's career along the way.
Billy Madison (1995): Not yet 30 years old, the Saturday Night Live comedian writes himself the role of the titular character, a carefree heir who must, as a 27-year-old slacker, complete 12 grades of school right away in order to earn his father's hotel empire. Film review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes sums it up best: "Billy Madison is typical early immature fare from Adam Sandler."
Happy Gilmore (1996): Playing an overly aggressive hockey player who brings his slapshot to golf, Sandler shares an unlikely fight scene with elderly game-show host Bob Barker
The Wedding Singer (1998): A box office hit, praised by critics. Some women may not be fans of Sandler's fratty oeuvre, but his film characters do regularly attract romantic interest. In this case, Drew Barrymore sparks an on-screen chemistry with Sandler that is reprised in 2004's 50 First Dates, in which Sandler plays a womanizer with commitment issues.
The Waterboy (1998): Sandler is Bobby Boucher, a brain-damaged southerner with rage issues. "There's something wrong with his medulla oblongata," according to one of Bobby's college professors.
Little Nicky (2000): A satanic comedy for the frat-house set. As in The Waterboy, Sandler affects a speech impediment.
Punch-Drunk Love (2002): Sandler is brilliant in a darkly comic romance, in which his strange character is prone to incidents of fearsome anger and touching moments of devotion.
Anger Management (2003): The whole movie is about the easily riled temper of Sandler's character.
The Longest Yard (2005): In a remake of the 1974 sports-comedy classic, Sandler can't fill Burt Reynolds's jock strap.
Funny People (2009): Sandler is surprisingly natural in a semi-serious role as a disillusioned comic-actor typecast in lowbrow films. He brawls with Seth Rogen and Eric Bana at the same time.
Grown Ups 2 (2013): A sequel lives up to the lameness of its 2010 predecessor. Film ends in a melee. Sandler cashes another cheque.
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (2017): In a rich, affecting comedy about an artistic family, the opening scene has Sandler in familiar rage-mode territory. Playing a man-child coming of age, he settles down to give one of the top performances of his career. (And he fights Ben Stiller.)