Cast: Adam Sandler (Barry Egan), Emily Watson (Lena Leonard), Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Dean Trumbell)
Writer/Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
When asked about Adam Sandler, Paul Thomas Anderson, director of Punch-Drunk Love, admits to being a fan of his work. Sandler’s silly comedies are, in his own words, an effective way to relieve stress and get in a better mood.
When P. T. Anderson cast Sandler for Punch-Drunk Love he offered the former Saturday Night Live castmember the opportunity to show us more of himself. The result is Barry Egan, a terribly insecure, psychologically damaged brother to seven sisters. P. T. Anderson defied my expectations creating a character around Sandler that revealed a facet of the comedian that was unknown to me. The relevation being that Sandler may be more than unpenetrable goofiness, and may even be an actor with decent range.
Barry Egan is a “little weird”, plagued by all sorts of issues that manifest in the most unexpected of ways. His life, up until he meets Lena, played by Emily Watson, has been little more than a battle against his own demons, all day, every day.
The attraction between the two is nothing short of unconventional. Both are “weirdos” in a sense. Barry can’t control his rage or carry out a normal conversation, while Lena seems to be oblivious to all of the warning signs, staying true to how she feels when she is around him.
In most of Paul Thomas Anderson’s films we find characters that seem to move forwards without logic. This is what makes his style of film making and writing so fascinating and unpredictable. He does not write real people, instead he writes characters that have a part to play in a story. The path they follow so inconsistent and void of reason that it can easily become unnerving and frustrating to watch his films.
Punch-Drunk love falls somewhere between intriguing and frustrating. On the one hand it remains an elusive and unpredictable film, but on the other it is an uneven character study that moves forward almost at random, where Sandler becomes a nuisance, rather than the character we are supposed to root for.
Both the score and the camera work respond to Sandler almost beat by beat. Mood changes translate onto the screen. The camera work alternates between frantic when Barry is under duress, and soothing when he is calm.
Except for the excellent There Will Be Blood, P. T. Anderson’s films all feel the same to me. They are incredibly interesting, fun to write about and as far away from Hollywood formulas as they get. At the same time, P. T. Anderson has never made an easily approachable film, which is why he probably appreciates the very of existence of Adam Sandler, who brings superficial lighthearted goofiness to a world that is in constant need of some.