Socially inept Barry Egan (Adam Sandler) is the only son among seven sisters who torment his insular daily life by calling him “gay boy” and making harassing telephone calls to him at work at the toilet-plunger warehouse he runs in the San Fernando Valley. Barry takes out his frustration by breaking and smashing things or randomly bursting into tears. One day he discovers a potential means of escape in an offer (and this part’s based on a true story) for frequent-flyer miles through the purchase of $3 000 of Healthy Choice Pudding which Barry buys by the case eventually racking up over 1.25 million miles worth of air travel. But loneliness is the guest who doesn’t leave and Barry bides his time by engaging in a phone-sex service wherein he gives away his credit card number and other information. He ends up being harassed by the woman he calls who turns out to be part of an extortion scheme organized by a dirtbag mattress salesman (Philip Seymour Hoffman). This leads to unforeseen consequences that push Barry deeper into the hair-pulling abyss–until his sister introduces him to Lena Leonard (Emily Watson) who with deceptively simple tenderness in this otherwise deceptively simple love story awakens Barry to his inner strength.
Let’s get this over with right now: Adam Sandler kicks ass in this movie. It doesn’t matter that he’s playing varied degrees of his angry retard from Billy Madison Happy Gilmore and the rest and that here he’s solidified those characters into a core of brewing indecisive rage (less the requisite heart of gold). Sandler seems to understand he’s representing all the sexually inept basket cases that go through life nitpicking the fine print because they can’t get laid. It’s also obvious that nobody breaks things on screen like Sandler–but at least here his rage isn’t just something that looked funny on paper. When he’s tearing the door off the john or screaming himself almost into a stroke during a confrontation with one of his sisters one gets the sense that Sandler is getting in touch with the rage of the inner self. His fits aren’t necessarily funny but they will make you laugh. It’s long been speculated that Sandler has the talent to deliver the goods and he does it here with a cartoonish walk and punctuated delivery that’ll suck you right into the loose wires of Barry’s dilapidated nervous system. Maybe this performance won’t earn him an Oscar nomination but Sandler‘s Barry will both give you the creeps and make you cheer him on. Refreshingly Emily Watson plays it straight this time around (as opposed to playing diseased dying or insane)–but unlike Sandler‘s performance any actress that looks good on a gurney could have done her role. But Watson gives a heck of a lot of warmth to a character that doesn’t seem to have much of a story. Philip Seymour Hoffman as the sleazy salesman who operates the sleazy phone-sex service gets to say “shut up” a lot. This role again could have done by just about anyone but it’s apparent that Hoffman has become an indispensable facet of Anderson films. So where oh where is John C. Reilly?
Boogie Nights and Magnolia gave us a director who put the cultural absurdities of David Lynch and the detailed broad strokes of Robert Altman in the soup and made us eat it with a gun to our heads. We loved it bestowing Paul Thomas Anderson with awards nominations and a fat paycheck. Punch-Drunk Love (for which Anderson won best director at Cannes 2002) exemplifies the director’s knack for capturing the mind-numbing madness of the obvious. With a camera that slinks along hallways and around corners panoramic stills of the Valley’s empty streets and grocery stores over-amplified sound effects and a creepy score by Jon Brion Anderson has put together a far more accessible feast than his last two outings. This is a movie you could watch just for the ingenious theatrical movement of the camera. Some of the scenes in Punch-Drunk Love–like when Barry’s sister introduces him to Lena and we’re barraged with crashes squelched dialogued and chaotic drumming that’ll make you think you’re having a seizure–are awe-inspiring. Anderson‘s screenplay loaded with witty dialogue and unexpected heart-stopping surprises is on par with the direction; there are a lot of choice lines especially from Sandler to put on your computer’s hard drive.