Who is Adam Sandler?,
This review is from: Punch-Drunk Love (Superbit(TM), Special Edition) (DVD)Paul Thomas Anderson is either hit or miss with me. I liked the Hard Eight, I loved Boogie Nights, but I really thought he lost his way with Magnolia. That isn't to say I can't recognize that he is immensely talented and I'm looking forward to seeing his latest film There Will be Blood. Punch-Drunk Love is a smaller movie about Barry Egan, a business owner who sells novelty items such as stylized toilet plungers. Everything about Barry Egan permeates with a kind of frustrating sadness. His seven older sisters constantly insult him and his life is consistently portrayed as minimalist and disassociated. He is a profoundly lonely man. His bizarre social behavior is awkward but at times spirals into both perversion as well as intensely violent fits of rage. All the while, he is portrayed as the film's protagonist. Anderson is especially delicate in making us understand his eccentricities as justifiable survival mechanisms within the paradigm of his uncomfortable past and nearly pathetic current life. Anderson is careful not to mock or exploit Egan for his faults.
Who could play such a unique and intriguing character? I have to admit, I'm a big fan of Adam Sandler's early comedies. Especially Billy Madison and I don't care who knows about it. I love the silly and stupid humor of Adam Sandler and I firmly believe it is what put him on the map. But he was just a character in those early films and besides those films really are just a series of comedy sketches. It would've made more sense if Billy Madison were placed into a CGI world, a cartoon, or a comic book in the first place. He continued to be silly all along but his characters always carried this dark side that wasn't easy to pinpoint among the poop jokes and slap-stick. He was almost like Adam West's Batman was in the old television show and how we see Batman now in Christopher Nolan's Batman movies is how we see Adam Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love. It is as if Billy Madison or Happy Gilmore were snatched away from the unrealistic comedic worlds of those respective films and aggressively forced to exist in the real world, where every scene isn't necessarily working toward a punch-line. Although, much of Barry Egan's behavior is, at least on the surface, not unlike the behavior of Madison and Gilmore.
The most amazing thing about the whole Sandler dynamic is that he can really act. He stands toe-to-toe with Phillip Seymour Hoffman (an Anderson regular who happens to be an amazing actor) in my favorite scene of the movie, where these two angry idiots just scream back and forth at each other over the phone. The scene makes their later encounter in person an amazing confrontation. Every single scene Sandler is in we tend to feel for the people around him. Knowing what his temper is capable of made me uncomfortable for the people who surround him but especially uncomfortable for Egan himself, who seemingly can't settle into his own skin. He does seem to find some comfort around Lena (Emily Watson), whose relationship with Barry is really what the film is intent on seeing through.
Punch-Drunk Love has a great style. Anderson has a way of making ordinary scenes memorable and important scenes extraordinary. He is a also a great writer and makes even the smallest characters as strong as his leads. The soundtrack is of course the perfect fit as well. In the end and most important of all, Anderson tries hard to allow us the pleasure of watching Barry Egan bring some kind of comfort into his troubled life and I for one was surprised to enjoy it as much as I did.