Punch Drunk Love Review
By Shawn McKenzie 11/25/2002
Adam Sandler is an actor/singer/comedian who has rarely been liked by critics (me excluded.) In fact, he probably ranks right above Tom Green and Pauly Shore on their hate list. On the other hand, most critics (me included) love director Paul Thomas Anderson for making movies like Boogie Nights and Magnolia. Why would Anderson then take a chance on the critical pariah Sandler for his first movie in three years? I believe it is because he saw in Sandler what I already knew: Sandler does have emotional range, but just hasn’t been given the platform for it. Not until Punch Drunk Love.
Barry Egan (Sandler) is a man who owns a plunger sales business who works with Lance (Luis Guzmán) and others in a plain warehouse somewhere in Southern California. He is a lonely man who has sudden violent eruptions, especially when bothered by any of his seven domineering sisters, including Elizabeth (Mary Lynn Rajskub.) The thing lately at work that seems to calm him down is the harmonium he fixed up that was dropped off at the end of the alley where he works. He has also found a loophole in a Healthy Choice frequent flier promotion involving buying a huge bulk of their pudding (which is the cheapest item at $.25 a cup) which he can redeem for a million frequent flier miles. One night, after being embarrassed during a birthday party at one of his sisters’ houses, he decides to call up a phone sex service (mainly just to talk to someone.) After giving his personal information to the operator, he gets a call from "Georgia" (Ashley Clark.) He assumed that was that after his conversation with her, but the next morning she calls back, saying she is hurting financially and needs $750 to pay her rent (she assumes he is rich because he owns his own business.) After he says he can't help her, she starts harassing him at home and at work by calling him constantly and threatening him. Meanwhile, his love life looks like it might get better when he meets Lena Leonard (Emily Watson), a woman he had earlier briefly met and now his sister Elizabeth has brought her back in hopes of fixing them up together. They start dating, but are not sure of each other. Barry’s trouble with Georgia increases when her boss, Dean Trumbell (Philip Seymour Hoffman), has sends her four “brothers” to get the money from him. He realizes that he can finally have happiness with Lena, but he has this lingering harassment problem to deal with, since it is affecting the possibilities of a relationship with Lena. If he can get this taken care of, he might be able to live a happy life.
Sandler’s performance in this movie proves that there is the possibility to put the words “Adam Sandler” and the words “Oscar nomination” in the same sentence without having to include the words “will never get.” Under the awesome direction of Anderson, Sandler gives a performance that is so intense, you can almost feel his pain yourself. You feel happy when he is happy, frustrated when he is frustrated, and lonely when he is lonely. There is a scene where Barry takes his aggression out on the brothers sent out to get him by using a crowbar on them. I could feel the absolute rage in a man who could not take one more act of harassment by these people. I also felt the strength in Barry as he confronted Dean, who was obviously bigger than him and possibly packing a gun.
I highly recommend going to see Punch Drunk Love. Go see it if for no other reason than to confirm what I’ve known all along…Adam Sandler can act!
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