How A24 is selling a new dramatic performance by Adam Sandler.
Pairing Sandler and the directorial team of Benny and Josh Safdie may seem like an odd call, given the former’s penchant for lowbrow, lazy comedy and the latter’s reputation for avant garde cinema, but that’s exactly what’s happened with the new release Uncut Gems.
In the film Sandler plays Howard Ratner, a New York City jeweler with a tendency to gamble and take big risks in the hopes of a payoff, living by the seat of his pants and just trying to stay ahead of the people he’s in debt to. When he goes out on a limb to score a big payday he finds himself walking an even finer line as he tries to stay out of trouble while also not letting his family life fall apart more than it has.
The disconnect between the material and the public’s expectations of what an Adam Sandler movie is have formed the crux of A24’s marketing for the movie.
In September the first poster (by marketing agency BLT Communications) came out. There’s nothing extravagant about it, simply showing a grainy photo of Howard looking a little worse for wear but seemingly unphased by it. The story isn’t communicated at all through text so the message is just for audiences to come see a dramatic turn by Sandler.
At the beginning of the first trailer (4.1 million views on YouTube), released in September, Howard is seen as the kind of fast-talking low-grade con man who’s constantly getting himself into and out of trouble. That includes placing lots of bets and selling expensive jewelry. At the midpoint things take a turn and we see Howard may have overdone it, putting himself and his family in danger from powerful men who aren’t happy with how he’s been conducting himself.
Online and Social
Not much information beyond the marketing materials on the studio’s page for the film. Somewhat surprisingly, there were Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles created to share promotional material and, in the case of Twitter in particular, amplify early enthusiasm and positive reviews.
Advertising and Publicity
News the movie was among those that would screen at this year’s Toronto Film Festival hit in late July, accompanied by a first look at Sandler’s character. Reviews out of the festival heralded it as another great accomplishment from the Safdie brothers, with Sandler’s performance being called out by many. It later screened to similar acclaim at the Telluride Film Festival and was revealed to be the “secret” screening at the New York Film Festival.
Late October brought news the film had received three Gotham Awards nominations.
AMC released an exclusive featurette with comments from the directors and cast.
Media and Press
While the cast and crew were in Toronto there were a number of interviews where they talked about the positive reaction the film received and what it was like to work with the Safdies and what they did to prepare for their roles. Sandler spoke during NYFF about similar things.
Safdie talked about working with Sandler while the actor shared some of the research he engaged in prior to production in an October interview.
There were a handful of profiles of Sandler that all seemed to focus on how he approached taking a more dramatic role and whether it might mean awards consideration for the usually dismissed comedic actor. Similarly, a last couple profiles of the Safdies related how they had spent a decade or more trying to get this film made. Another interview with them focused on their hands-on filmmaking style.
At the premiere Sandler and the rest of the cast spoke about the movie and various other topics related to the state of the film industry.
Early reactions to the movie have been overwhelmingly enthusiastic, leading to a 92 percent “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, something that can’t be said for most other Sandler films.
And that’s the point of the entire campaign. The Safdies have a reputation among critics and serious cinephiles for their innovative filmmaking techniques and original stories, but casting Sandler in this movie may have caused a few people to scratch their heads. So the marketing has worked overtime to present the actor as rising to the occasion and putting in the best work of his career. It’s not that he hasn’t given great performances in the past, it’s that drama isn’t his forte.
Notably, there’s been little effort – at least to my eyes – to bring in Sandler’s existing fanbase and have them take a chance on something outside his usual wheelhouse. It’s like the studio understands that the one audience can be swayed while the other can’t, so it’s not even worthy trying.