It was one of the most bewildering experiences of my life.

Sarah Royce
Boy does he look happy. (CLIF REEDER/Daily)

On Sunday in Birmingham, there was a private red-carpet screening of Mike Binder’s new Adam Sandler-led drama “Reign Over Me,” which opens tomorrow in Ann Arbor. Binder, a native of Detroit’s suburbs, recently found the success of his career with “The Upside of Anger,” which was also set and partially filmed locally. Allow me to tell you the story of my night.

5:35 p.m.

A photographer and I arrive in Birmingham. We have to get to the Palladium 12 theater for the Detroit premiere of “Reign Over Me.” Why would a major studio drama, which touts heavy performances from Adam Sandler and Don Cheadle with a New York sensibility for post-Sept. 11 trauma, premiere here of all places?

Simple. Binder is somewhat of a hometown hero. The line of people waiting to see this Birmingham native doesn’t feel like people excited to see a new movie so much as a bunch of buddies getting together.

6:37 p.m.

After a fair amount of waiting, informal dialectics and growing impatience, we’re on. People start to arrive: Bob Seger is the first big name. But I don’t realize it’s him, I just thought he was another random, middle-aged man. Sorry Bob.

P.T. Anderson appears, the director of “Punch Drunk Love.” As the only one who recognizes him, I call out his name . I ask about his upcoming film, “There Will Be Blood.”

He makes a slight acknowledgment and walks on by.

Allen Covert shuffles in, the lead in last year’s comedy “Grandma’s Boy” and frequent Sandler collaborator. Being the jackass that I am (I gave “Boy” a positive review), I scream out “Grandma’s Boy!”

Covert does a double take, stops and slowly says, “Yeah”?

“I loved that movie! I actually gave it a good review,” I stammer.

I am a whore, trying to get an autograph: I might as well pull out his headshot and beg. But Covert is surprisingly kind. He shakes my hand, says thank you very much and makes his way to the elevator.

Sandler and Binder finally emerge. When you wish to ask about the film, its makers and the story behind it, it’s hard to get a word in when 100 people are jamming “Happy Gilmore” DVDs in front of your face.

Sandler and Binder come near me, and I’m ready to ask a question.

I try to ask Sandler about the project, and he belts out at me, “Thank you, guy!” Twice.

I try to talk to Binder about Ann Arbor and its uses in his last film. “We love you,” he blurts out.

Within about 30 seconds, it’s all over – they’re in that magic elevator separating us from the screening. Everyone disperses, and I realize I didn’t get my questions in. But I still have a free viewing of a new movie and a Q & A session to follow. All is not lost. Let’s go see a movie.

7:25 p.m.

Sandler and Binder enter the theater to induct the movie; their words are as kind as they are brief. Binder is revered by locals and well-wishers. Sandler quips that the seats are “squishy” and that Binder’s been eating well in Los Angeles. There is hope the film will speak for itself.

The movie turns out to be legitimate. “Reign Over Me” has emotional intelligence, heart and humility. Sandler can definitely act, Cheadle was at his most affable and Binder directed with the assurance and control of man who cares about and understands his work.

9:30 p.m.

The movie is over, and there’s a 10-minute standing ovation. Binder and Sandler are pleased with the public response. Maybe they think they’ll turn a profit, or if they hold out long enough, get an Oscar nomination. The first is possible, the second, not so much.

The floor opens for questions, but it’s more like an exercise in heckling.

“You deserve an Academy Award!” one woman shouts out.

“Will you come over for Passover?” a young girl begs of Sandler.

It’s all in good fun, and the combination of Sandler and Binder at the mic makes for an enjoyable story hour. Soon the questions become more legitimate, and the answers more earnest. Binder speaks about the film’s “communicative powers,” hoping that people will leave “Reign” thinking about being more honest and open to others. Sandler admits to the fears of doing a project that required such gravitas, acknowledging his hesitation to play such a serious role. To quote him, he was “scared as shit.”

Sandler and Binder appear to be men working to make something that people can appreciate and understand. The goal was to make a drama about grief and loss, and “Reign Over Me” is an articulate reflection of that. The film was about mending, and luckily the audience got it.

10 p.m.

Q & A over. Sandler lurches out, but not without dozens of fans trying desperately for that last-chance autograph. I need to ask a question. Now or never: I see Binder isn’t nearly as crowded by fans, so I try to make it in for a question. I get up to the man and grab his attention. We make eye contact and he smiles. I look down read my question. I wanted to ask about where the story came from, seeing as he wrote the film.

As soon as I asked, I looked up, and he was gone.

Damn it.

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