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.