Adam Sandler has always been what I like to call a lazy actor. It’s not the same as a bad actor. He’s a man with a lot of potential to do well, but settles for what he knows will make a lot of money and require minimal work. Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love, however, is not a normal Sandler film. In fact, it’s not a normal film at all. And that’s the beauty of it.
Sandler plays Barry Egan, an emotionally troubled and quiet man who runs a novelty store out of a storage garage. The business does well for its ridiculous location. Maybe the location is saying something about the movie. That perhaps it’s a little… off. And off it is, switching between random moments of Adam Sandler dancing to a screen filled with random colors and extravagant music. But, the real plot begins when he meets Lena (played with extreme oddness by Emily Watson) who looks passed the deranged and sometimes emotionally unsettling behavior (he smashes glass doors when his seven sisters call him “Gay Boy”) of Barry and asks him out on a date. Enter perhaps one of the funniest scenes in the movie which includes Sandler destroying a bathroom in rage. Sandler and Watson’s chemistry is undeniable, and their quick falling for each other is believable enough and far from ridiculous.
There is another plot point including a phone-sex scene and blackmailing, but I don’t want to give too much away. I’ll just say it includes Philip Seymour Hoffman (who’s a blast, as always) sending hilarious-looking goons after Barry.
The real joy of the film is Sandler, who gives his best performance to date. His emotion and rage-filled performance drive the film to success far exceeding any amount of money his previous films have garnered.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s direction is also simply mesmerizing, using camera effects that I’ve never seen pulled off so brilliantly. I knew from watching this that he would someday make an Award-winning film, and it seems I was correct (see There Will Be Blood, another amazing Anderson film).
As far as financial success goes, the film made a mere 17 million domestically, and nearly 7 million worldwide. But, some films make money at the sacrifice of bad acting. Some achieve both financial success and groundbreaking performances. Punch-Drunk Love merely achieves what I would think as a personal success for Sandler. But, as it would seem, I would be wrong. Sandler went back to making mediocre comedy films (with the exception of Reign Over Me, Funny People, and to a somewhat lesser extent Spanglish) after this.
So, if you want to go back to a time when Sandler explored his ability, check this one out. You’ll be far from disappointed with the result.