Let’s see Adam Sandler as an actor, and not a puppet.
With Adam Sandler’s latest dramatic turn in “Uncut Gems” out in theaters soon, I wanted to look back at his 2002 artisan film “Punch Drunk Love.” Yes, he’s had some serious roles in “Reign Over Me” and “The Meyerowitz Stories” later on in his career, but this movie allows him to balance his emotions, and reveal himself as an actor, and not just a comedian.
Director Paul Thomas Anderson won the Best Director award at the Cannes Film Festival, and he deserves it. This is one of the most beautifully photographed, emotionally charged, poignantly written, and profoundly acted pieces of cinema I’ve ever seen. It stands alone as a personal film about taking advantage of a single man, until he runs out of patience.
Sandler portrays Barry Egan, a lonely and emotionally abused man, who wears a blue suit everyday for no particular reason. He runs a business, while his seven sisters mistreat him, and that’s why he throws outbursts and cries constantly.
He also decides to exploit a loophole in a Healthy Choice promotion, which can guarantees frequent flyer miles. That’s why he buying a lot of pudding. Eventually, he uses the flyer miles to travel to Hawaii to visit a girl he’s dating-Lena (Emily Watson), who works with one of his sisters.
Before his trip and relationship, Barry ends up in grave turmoil He gives phone sex a try, but after denying a girl’s request for $750, he gets beaten up by four blonde men, all under her command. When he speaks to her boss (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) about her crimes, that’s when he really explodes with great intensity.
The editing was done by Leslie Jones, the cinematography was by Robert Elswit, and the music was composed by Jon Brion. I love the look and feel of the film. When Barry runs away from his attackers, and throws himself on the ground; when he kicks a sliding glass door out of anger; and when he comes face-to-face with Hoffman; all of these shots are memorable and ignite flames.
Sandler, who has made a number of funny comedies like “Big Daddy” or “Happy Gilmore” and stinkers like “Jack & Jill” and “Blended,” has proven himself to be an actor with “Punch Drunk Love.” He has the emotions to bring out the best of his character. He doesn’t always need goofiness to be entertaining; he needs originality, and that’s what Barry Egan has. And he’s given fine supporting work from Watson as his kinder love, Hoffman as the cruel businessman, Luis Guzman as Barry’s employee, and Robert Smigel as a dentist relative of his.
Paul Thomas Anderson tames Sandler, and we must thank him for developing a personal movie that takes risks, and never goes for broke, even if this bombed at the box office. But don’t let those numbers define this tour-de-force.