Punch Drunk Love

The Adam Sandler movie for people who hate Adam Sandler movies. You've probably heard that this is not an Adam Sandler movie. Add to that, you're probably thinking, it's a P.T. Anderson movie, that just happens to have Adam Sandler in it in a wry casting move by one of young Hollywood's most promising new directors. Well, if you are thinking that, you're wrong. This IS an Adam Sandler movie, albeit one not hindered by former cast members of SNL, not starring a vacuous and impossibly endowed female lead, and not featuring dialogue retreaded from every other Sandler film. As the film opens, we're introduced to Sandler's awkward anti-hero Barry Egan, dressed in a sharp, but painfully tacky blue suit which probably marks the first time Sandler's shown up at the beginning of a movie in anything other than a pair of sweatpants and a sports-themed t-shirt. What looks at first to be a cast against type turns out in fact to be a ruse. Here, Sandler is basically a toned down (but amped up) version of his regularly scheduled misunderstood and maladjusted self. He's scaled back the over-the-top, loony tune histrionics and refocused that out-of-control energy into the bursts of violence that punctuate the film's key scenes that turn the Sandler caricature into a real character. I think that what I was expecting here was something along the lines of Marlon Wayans' performance in 'Requiem For A Dream' (something really off the beaten path for a slapstick comedian). What I got instead was a more tolerable, believable, and sympathetic version of the odd misanthrope that Sandler has played in films like 'Happy Gilmore' and 'Big Daddy.' It's like watching an Adam Sandler film that you don't feel bad about liking. P.T. Anderson does so much right in this movie, from the bits of surrealism that pop up in nearly all of Sandler's films (remember the Penguin and the musical from 'Billy Madison'?), to the unpredictable shifts in tone from playful to creepy. He's managed to keep all of the cues that Sandler films are known for, but he's done it in a way that doesn't insult your intelligence. I kept waiting for the expository dialogue that would explain why Sandler's character was so emotionally off-balance, but thankfully it never came. A typical film with this sort of set-up would spell out in more ways than one the exact disorder, affliction, conflict, or personal background that the lead has been through to make him such a shy and goofy introvert with violent tendencies. But Anderson holds all of that back so that we can focus on the story at hand, the tenuous relationship between Sandler and Watson, and we watch to see how the situation will snap. Because of course it will snap, and it does, with some amazing ferocity. Early reflective moments in the film are almost completely silent with no score and no added sound effects, and they nail the sense of isolation that holds Barry Egan back. In contrast, when he erupts in a restaurant restroom, smashing it with his fists, the sound is blunt and distorted like listening to a migraine tearing Barry apart. It's a stunning effect that finally puts all of the rude violence of Adam Sandler movies into perspective. The final showdown with a detestable Philip Seymour Hoffman shows the kind of maturity that the archetypal Sandler character can hold, when in the right hands. Of course, Adam Sandler will go on to make more 'Little Nicky's' and Anderson will undoubtedly move on to bigger and more complicated fare, but for this hour and a half, it's fun to see the two come together and make it work. Go see this before it Sandler's next movie, an animated feature where he's back in the sweatpants and sneakers, changes your mind about his potential.