Reviewed by: Megan Basham
Starring: Adam Sandler, Emily Watson, Luis Guzmán, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Mary Lynn Rajskub | Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson | Produced by: Joanne Sellar, Paul Thomas Anderson, Daniel Lupi | Written by: Paul Thomas Anderson | Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Knowing this was a Paul Thomas Anderson film, the writer/director of such distinct and often offensive movies as “Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia”, I did have some idea what I was getting into. But, like many this weekend, my curiosity to see Adam Sandler in a serious role, for which he is receiving surprisingly positive notices, was enough to pull me into the theater.
First things first: Anderson more than lives up to his raunchy reputation in “Punch Drunk Love”—the language alone is enough to warrant its “R” rating. Also, though much lighter than his previous films, probably only about 10 percent of your average, Christian audience would enjoy Punch Drunk Love’s peculiar humor and stilted love story. That said, I have to admit I am one of them.
Adam Sandler delivers a gripping performance as Barry Egan, a self-employed businessman whose entrepreneurial status does nothing to improve his sense of self worth. Of course, it doesn’t help that his seven sisters apparently think it’s their mission in life to belittle their brother whenever possible. In a hilarious and touching opening scene, each sister interrupts Barry at work to pressure him to attend a family party that evening. Not one seems to realize that her constant insults could be the reason he is reluctant to show up.
A lifetime of this abuse has made Barry into an insecure mass of psychoses, incapable of taking any action, save for temper tantrums and crying jags. Thankfully, love, in the form of winsome, wide-eyed Lena Leonard (Emily Watson), finds him and begins to heal his wounds. One small problem though, just as Barry finds love, an extortionist phone-sex worker finds him.
Anderson wrote his off-beat script around Sandler, brilliantly using Sandler’s explosive humor in films like “Billy Madison” and “Happy Gilmore” to cast an eerie shadow over the story. Unlike the aforementioned films, here his violent outbursts have consequences. In fact, they are evidence of a deeply troubled, hurting individual. Sandler’s talent is revealed in his ability to take an array of idiosyncrasies (Barry hoards pudding cups and spends the entire film in a shockingly bright blue suit) and create a character the audience truly cares about.
Strange as Barry is, we can all relate to family members bringing up stories we’d rather forget, and having to swallow our hurt and smile at family functions. If nothing else, this movie caused me to consider the small, callous ways I probably injure my own siblings.
I admire “Punch Drunk Love” for its originality and humor. Anderson achieves an all too rare feat, creating an illuminating atmosphere that is entirely unique, and yet (at least for me) entirely accessible. But that language. I have seen films where the swearing seemed authentic, if not desired. The problem with “Punch Drunk Love” is I just don’t believe every character in the film would speak this way. I have many non-Christian friends and acquaintances, and none of them drops the f-bomb in every sentence. So I have hard time believing all seven sisters and Barry’s sweet, understanding girlfriend would as well. It’s been said so often by Christian media reviewers that it’s become a cliché, but it really is a shame this film is marred by so many, frankly distracting, obscenities. For all its creativity and insight, let’s just say I won’t be recommending this one to my mother.