Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

punch-drunk-loveI sat on my couch at the end of the film, amazed at what I’d just seen… Adam Sandler can act. I thought to myself: Adam Sandler can act?! After watching him in comedic duds like “Water Boy”, “Billy Madison”, and one of his most recent “Mr. Deeds”, I was astonished to discover this man may actually have the ability to become one of the best actors in the biz, if only he’d stick to bittersweet dramedies like this. Only two of his films are watchable: “Happy Gilmore”, and “Big Daddy”, two movies which show Sandler’s knack for comedy and quality, two films that show the child that Sandler is so famous for invoking. “Punch Drunk Love” has prompted me to wonder if I was wrong all along about him. Sure, most of his movies are terrible, but “Punch Drunk Love” begs to differ and makes people think that maybe he’s just as much as star as everyone says he is.

Though there is no way you can force me to watch “Mr. Deeds”, and “Waterboy” again, this film shows off what he hasn’t been able to achieve: a respectable performance. Sandler asserts his child-like impish inept persona for his character Barry Egan once more, except the up point is that he never breaks out screaming like a lunatic for comedy like he does in his other films, except when he breaks out into fits of rage and anger, it’s real, it’s emotional, and we feel sorry for him. Sandler presents instances of Jimmy Stewart-like mannerisms and personality quirks, he becomes an every man, a lonely man, and a truly interesting man we want to see a lot of. This is a film for the lovelorn, a melancholy fairy tale for people seeking emotional comfort and hope that maybe someday they’ll come across someone who will make their life complete. Egan has a somewhat pedestrian if not odd life; he works at a warehouse and lives by routine. He’s basically an emotionally restrained man who wears a blue suit every day.

The blue suit is representative of his desire to change his life and choose different paths that would dare to make it more interesting. He buys pudding, a lot of pudding so he can clip off the offers for frequent flyer miles and redeem them in, and steals a small piano off the side of the road. The piano is once again illustrative of his need to change his life, and his control over it. When he’s angry, frustrated, and annoyed he fiddles the keys at random and closes his eyes, almost as if it’s a form of release and therapy, a way for him to control something small as opposed to something big which he has no power over. He has no one in his life except his family of seven sisters who are basically what ruin his life and keep him from change. His sisters bully him; they insult him, break him down, and make him hate himself, but they love him and only want what’s best for him. It’s instantly noticeable in the scene of the hotel room where Watson’s character is talking to Barry’s sister and Watson makes an insulting comment about Egan and his sister instantly jumps to his defense.

But he doesn’t know it, and instead of confronting them, he has intense fits of destructive rage like when he smashes his sister’s windows in with his foot. He endures their abuse maybe because he doesn’t want to be alone, and maybe he yearns for that structure. In an attempt to not feel so lonely, he calls a sex hotline and has a somewhat awkward, friendly, but hilarious conversation with the woman on the other end, little does he know that he got himself into some deep water and begins a battle with the mysterious woman and her associates who threaten his life. When the stripper attempts to squeeze some money from him with stalking and an attempted kidnapping, he begins to become increasingly angry. The woman and husband Dean Trumbell (Phillip Seymour Hoffman: Almost Famous, Boogie Nights) who attempt represent how easy it is for people to take another’s feelings and use it against them.

Hoffman gives a great performance in his rather scarce walk-on role, but manages to become truly memorable as a villain. Emily Mortimer (Hilary & Jackie, Red Dragon) is at her cutest in this film posing as the Egan characters love interest Lena. In many ways, they’re completely alike; they’re both neurotic, strange, and endure the other’s quirks with stride. Mortimer is the love that Egan yearns and becomes the love he needs to complete his life, and it’s great to watch them quickly fall in love with one another. They need each other, and they both know it; when Lena announces she’s going to Hawaii, she seems serene and content, but when Barry announces he may go too, she instantly becomes giddy and eager to have him with her. This instantly sparks motivation for him to pursue her. At one point the two look into each other’s eyes and tell each other that they want to smash their heads in, scoop out their eyeballs, and kiss their face. In another movie it might look weird and creepy, but in the way director Paul Thomas Anderson portrays it, it’s so weird it’s almost endearing.

The film presents tones of Capra-esque idealism that stands by the adage that love can power all, such is evident when Egan finally stands up against his stalkers and beats them to a pulp (one of the best scenes) and confronts his offenders. The story gives an idea that love can topple any obstacle, and makes you believe so when watching for the happy ending. The story’s tone may seem mushy and corny, but it’s helped by the cast who steamroll into the viewer’s hearts with the stand-up acting. These are characters you want more of, characters you can relate to, from Egan’s quirks and loneliness, to Lena’s impish but aggressive personality, to his sisters who basically ruin his life but love him despite it all. Paul Thomas Anderson whose previous films including the Oscar contenders “Magnolia”, and “Boogie Nights” gives the viewing audience something to hope for, and something to feel good about from beginning to end. One of the best and most poignant films of 2002 with an original story, deep and realistic characters, and great performances from Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Emily Mortimer and Adam Sandler who surprises with a memorable performance.