Last night, at the opulent Cipriani Wall Street, Michelle Williams began what will likely be a long awards season for her work playing Mitzi Fabelman, a stand-in for Steven Spielberg’s mother in The Fabelmans. But accepting a performer tribute at the Gotham Awards, Williams mostly spoke about her roots in Capeside, Massachusetts. Not a member of Gen X or a millennial? That’s where Dawson’s Creek was set.
In fact, it was an entire night of stars referencing the nostalgia audiences hold for their early work.
Adam Sandler, who was awarded the other performer tribute, killed doing a speech ostensibly written by his teenage daughters in “that goofy Southern accent” he typically trots out for these events. (It’s a voice that’s adjacent to Bobby Boucher, his character in The Waterboy.) Everything Everywhere all at Once star Ke Huy Quan melted hearts with his acceptance speech for Outstanding Supporting Performance, referencing his long overdue comeback from his child-star days in The Goonies and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. The A24 film also took home the Best Feature award, setting it on a path to potential Oscar glory.
But it was Williams who was the first honoree to start tugging on our tear ducts with her invocation of Jen Lindley. Williams’ astonishing acting career is often thought of as being almost in spite of her teen TV roots, but Williams credited her following artistic success fully to her work on Dawson’s Creek, specifically to the Tony-nominated actress Mary Beth Peil, who played her character’s “Grams” on the show. “I was an emancipated minor when we met,” Williams said. “I was 16 years old and I was totally alone. Mary Beth Peil was the first artist that I’d ever met in my life. She didn’t call herself that, but there was something different about her.”
Peil told Williams stories about “New York fucking City” and suggested Williams move there and try theater. “I wasn’t an artist or a mother,” Williams added, as her Dawson’s co-star and BFF Busy Philipps watched her from a table in the front of the room. “I wasn’t even a high school graduate. Honestly, I was barely even a Michelle. I had just gotten people to stop calling me Shelly. But now I was Mary Beth’s girl and that made me someone.”
Williams closed her short, moving speech by explaining she couldn’t have played any of her lauded roles—from Randi Chandler in Manchester by the Sea to Gwen Verdon in Fosse/Verdon—without having first been Jen Lindley. “I wouldn’t have known how to handle being Steven Spielberg’s mother without having been Mary Beth’s granddaughter.”
If Williams’ reached for touchingly genuine sentiment in her time at the microphone, Sandler swerved the opposite direction—as expected. His moment in the spotlight was curiously scheduled directly following Jonathan Majors’ memorial to Sidney Poitier, featuring members of Poitier’s family, a fact which briefly made everyone, including Sandler, a bit uncomfortable, until the tension was sufficiently diffused with laughs.
After a hilarious introduction from Josh and Benny Safdie, Sandler’s Uncut Gems directors, wherein Benny confusingly called the Billy Madison star the “industrial revolution of actors,” Sandler took the stage and told the crowd he deputized speechwriting duties to his 14 and 16-year olds. They were not present. The reasoning per Sandler? “We also wish we could be at at tonight’s award show with all of you sophisticated people, but daddy said, and we quote, ‘I don’t want to spend a whole night that’s supposed to be about me and my greatness listening to you two newly pubetized buffoons screaming, ‘Where is Timothée Chalamet and how can we legally squeeze that fine little Jewish ass of his?’'”
In the voice of his daughters, Sandler described the “guiding principles” of his career: “People in prison need movies too, and TBS needs content to show between all them fucking basketball games.”
He specifically called out Big Daddy (a comedic masterpiece in this writer’s humble opinion) as the movie that not only starred the little kids that grew up to be Cole and Dylan Sprouse, but also the movie that paid for any number of his family members’ homes as well as “Rob Schneider’s fucking house.”
Yes, he did reference this films like Punch-Drunk Love and Uncut Gems which were “received with orgasmic critical acclaim,” crediting attending the Gotham Awards as his motivation for going serious, where he could wonder “just how many fucking movies did A24 produce this year.”
Now, you might be wondering: Why was Sandler even here outside of being just very funny? Well, it’s all part of a growing campaign to get him an Oscar nomination for Netflix basketball drama Hustle. It seems like a longshot—the Academy wouldn’t even give him a nod for the superior Uncut Gems. Still, no one would be mad if there were a 100 more Sandman speeches this year.
And while Sandler’s ability to make us guffaw may not be a great bellwether of Oscar wins to come, other Gotham Awards might be. The Gothams’ jury chose Danielle Deadwyler’s staggering performance as Mamie Till-Mobley in Till as the winner for Outstanding Lead Performance, giving her the edge over favorites Cate Blanchett in TÁRand Brendan Fraser in The Whale. Meanwhile, the triumphs of Everything Everywhere signal that the wacky multiverse saga starring Michelle Yeoh is perhaps the little movie that could this year. Fittingly, it’s a wildly creative film that is both outwardly emotional and just a tad bit nostalgic.