Punch Drunk Love

Review: A+

This film is being sold in trail­ers as show­ing a rad­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent Adam San­dler… I believe Roger Ebert said that he could­n’t look at an Adam San­dler movie the same way after this.

Well, I don’t think it’s a total­ly new char­ac­ter for San­dler, but I agree that Punch Drunk Love both refines and expands on the fun­ny nice-guy he’s played in the past, while offer­ing a new tar­nished dimension.

San­dler’s char­ac­ter, Bar­ry Egan, is a shy, slight­ly obses­sive-com­pul­sive, eas­i­ly-spooked busi­ness own­er, with 7 annoy­ing pas­sive-aggres­sive sis­ters who con­stant­ly pep­per him with insults and dri­ve him to vio­lent “freak-outs”, we are told, since child­hood. He’s def­i­nite­ly got avoidant issues.

Any­way, Bar­ry sells whole­sale bath­room sup­plies out of a ware­house in the Val­ley east of Los Ange­les, and spends a lot of his time think­ing about how to turn Healthy Choice pud­ding into thou­sands of fre­quent-fli­er miles. Stay with me! It’s odd, yes…

As the sto­ry con­tin­ues, one of the sis­ters intro­duces Bar­ry to a friend of hers, played by Emi­ly Wat­son, and a very strange romance ensues.

I’m not go any­more into the plot or sto­ry, so if you’re inclined to learn more, check out A.O Scot­t’s review in the Times.

What I’m inter­est­ed is this thrown-about idea that this is a total­ly new Adam San­dler– I don’t think it is. Bar­ry’s life, from the begin­ning, is one of strange unease. San­dler is quite good at com­mu­ni­cat­ing the dread of social and pro­fes­sion­al rela­tion­ships in Bar­ry’s life, and that feel­ing is under­scored by a creep­ing cin­e­matog­ra­phy and beau­ti­ful­ly dis­ori­ent­ing sound design. You get the sense that his co-work­ers don’t know quite what to make of him, and his sis­ters and broth­er-in-laws are fre­quent­ly vio­lat­ing his pri­va­cy, dig­ni­ty and confidence.

Again and again, Bar­ry is pushed so far that he schiz­o­phreni­cal­ly explodes from his usu­al shy with­draw­al, to vio­lent out­bursts– just the kind of bipo­lar out­bursts that San­dler employed in his less-than-intel­li­gent out­ings (Bil­ly Madi­son, Hap­py Gilmore, the Wed­ding Singer… kind of inter­change­able, no?).

Punch Drunk Love’s hero is the same kind of lik­able nice-guy the girls can feel good about, yet the slap­stick vio­lence usu­al­ly found in his movies is far more psy­chi­cal­ly charged here, and in the end I’m not left won­der­ing Isn’t Adam San­dler an odd choice for that role?… he’s perfect.

Emi­ly Wat­son plays Lena, the adorable woman who, for some unknown rea­son, falls in love with Bar­ry. Lena is inter­est­ing as well, because she too vac­il­lates in a slight schiz­o­phrenic man­ner from a shy sweet­heart, into a woman who aggres­sive­ly goes after the man she wants. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, she is one of the less devel­oped char­ac­ters– I real­ly don’t under­stand why she want­ed to meet Bar­ry in the first place. Lone­li­ness? But Wat­son is amaz­ing on screen.

There is a tor­tured and sen­ti­men­tal nature to Bar­ry, but San­dler and P.T. Ander­son nev­er make it seem con­trived or false– have you seen Robin Williams or Chris Rock in dra­mat­ic roles? I mean, seriously.

Sim­ply put, this is a very good film.

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