CANNES, FRANCE (AFP) - Critics sniffed when Hollywood funnyman Adam Sandler got invited to Cannes, but his performance in the all-star The Meyerowitz Stories drew glowing reviews Sunday - and even buzz about a best actor prize.
Sandler, often ridiculed for slapstick comedies like Happy Gilmore and Billy Madison, plays the unemployed son of a New York sculptor (Dustin Hoffman) who suffers in the shadow of his successful young brother (Ben Stiller).
The picture by Noah Baumbach (When We Were Young) garnered enthusiastic applause at a press preview ahead of its red-carpet premiere at the world's top film festival.
Reviewers said Sandler, who has churned out dozens of often critically-savaged box office hits, turned in his best performance since his Golden Globe-nominated part in 2002's Punch-Drunk Love.
Film industry website The Wrap ran the headline "Wow, Adam Sandler Might Actually Belong in Cannes" while Indiewire said "it remains hugely frustrating how great Adam Sandler can be when he's not making Adam Sandler movies".
The Guardian hailed Sandler as "a formidable screen actor", as the Daily Telegraph's critic Robbie Collin tweeted: "Kind of love that Adam Sandler is so rarely as great as he is in The Meyerowitz Stories, because when he is it feels so revelatory." Sandler looked moved as he was greeted with a cheer by Cannes reporters and thanked Baumbach for an "amazing script".
"It got me so many times, I was misty-eyed, laughing. I just couldn't believe we were going to get to do this movie and show this story. I loved it," he said.
After enduring some good-natured ribbing from Stiller about Happy Gilmore, Sandler said he knew The Meyerowitz Stories was an opportunity he should not pass up.
"It's different for a comedian when you get an offer like this and my first thought is, 'I don't want to let anybody down,'" Sandler said.
At the rollicking press conference, Stiller joked that he thought the script's "first 30 or 40 pages were kind of slow" until his character appears.
He said he only agreed to take the part when he heard "Dustin Hoffman was auditioning to play the dad," drawing a big laugh from the veteran two-time Oscar winner.
The bittersweet film combines hilarious set pieces with starkly emotional scenes of a dysfunctional family trying to work out its conflicts before its cantankerous patriarch dies.
Hoffman said Baumbach insisted the cast perform his script "word-for-word, whether we like it or not".
"I think not since The Graduate was I required to say every single word, and it pays off because there is a music to his writing," he said, referring to the 1967 movie that made him a star. "Any of us would work for him for free."
Fellow two-time Oscar winner Emma Thompson, who drew big laughs for her turn as the father's alcoholic fourth wife, called the movie's humour "the deepest bit" about it.
"It's funny and then it's suddenly terribly moving which for me anyway is the most satisfying form of drama that there is," she said. "If it's not funny I can't really cope with watching it actually."
The Meyerowitz Stories is one of 19 movies vying for the Palme d'Or top prize at Cannes, which runs until May 28.