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How Punch Drunk Love Changed Adam Sandler Forever

One of the most striking things about Adam Sandler’s filmography post-“Punch-Drunk Love” is how few dramatic roles he has taken — only half dozen or so in two decades. It makes a certain kind of sense, though. While his comedies are reliably popular with audiences and hated by critics, his attempts at drama have been far more hit or miss over the years. Sandler’s performances in James L. Brooks’ family dramedy, “Spanglish,” and Mike Binder’s post-9/11 drama, “Reign Over Me,” were well-received, but the films were stymied by sitcom plotting and unearned sentimentality, respectively. Judd Apatow’s “Funny People,” which cast Sandler as a movie star reevaluating his life and career after a cancer diagnosis, is at its best when exploring the world of up-and-coming comedians but, otherwise, sags under its own weight.

Despite those issues, Sandler’s dramatic roles in the first decade after “Punch-Drunk Love” were largely well-received. The same cannot be said for a pair of outright disasters that hit in 2014. Jason Reitman’s “Men, Women & Children” strives to be a cautionary tale about the pernicious influence of the internet and social media but winds up disjointed and borderline hysterical. However, later that year, Sandler outdid himself with “The Cobbler,” Tom McCarthy’s would-be fable about a shoemaker who can step into the lives of other people. Deeply misguided in nearly every way, the film becomes even more bizarre when you consider that McCarthy wrote and directed the Oscar-winning “Spotlight” just a year later.

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