The Many FACES of Adam Sandler
Key Concept: A great comedian commands a mastery of facial expressions, from nuanced to exaggerated.
The video, created from a series of stills taken during a photo session, is intended to show off the actor’s facial versatility. What’s not clear, due to the speed with which the images flash by, is that the facial expressions are not random; rather the grins and grimaces follow a narrative arc. Instead of simply mugging for the camera, Sandler tells a spontaneously improvised story with classic cardinal expressions mixed in with comedic and affected poses.
Here’s my own invented narration of the action, based on individual frames pulled from the video which I studied at length:
A much more complex expression, but still in the smile category. The raised upper eyelid and raised brows are part of the eager smile (Surprise + Smile), and what portion of the mouth we see is consistent with the configuration of the suppressed smile, a smile which is both enacted and restricted at the same time. Sandler seems to hide his smile with his hand. The message:
“You’ll never guess what I’ve got cooked up next.
Fear and sadness can overlap when facial movements are subtle and ambiguous. The brow and eyes are distressed (note the frown lines and oblique upper eyelid), but the eyes are open too wide for clear sadness, not wide enough for clear fear. The dropped-open mouth, slightly stretched at the level of the lower lip, is also midway between sadness and fear. In the context of the video, the face appears anxious.
“Uh oh, I hadn’t thought of that possibility.”
“This is driving me crazy – enough already!”
“Okay is that the way you want it – bring it on!”
The most purposely insincere of the three smiles we have featured. Here the broad smile is slightly strained looking (the teeth showing asymmetrically, which never happens in a true broad smile), and eyes are far too squinted to match the mouth, a basic requirement for the expression of joy to appear truly warm. Sandler is posing a smile, but it’s meant as a gesture, not an actual expression.
“Okay, I’ve got your number – see how worried I am?”
“I had no idea that this would go on this long. Enough already!”
As in any good comic drama, things go from bad to worse, from pain to emotional collapse. Here Sandler does an excellent job of appearing to cry, with the frown, eye squint, and stretched, pouting mouth all consistent with the action of weeping – reinforced by the strong hand gesture pressing against his face.
“You have no idea what you have driven me to! This is the worst!”
With Sandler’s character breaking down in tears as the most dramatic moment in this mini-story, the narrative now winds down to a fitful, anti-climatic end. Here Sandler recovers (amazing quickly) from his crying jag and demonstrates that he is simply disgusted with the whole story.
“You and your whole enterprise make me sick.”