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Punch-Drunk Love

Of all the strange things that could possibly happen, who would have thought that Adam Sandler actually acting was one of them? Isn't this one of the signs of the apocalypse? Sandler is the man responsible for lowering the IQ of the moviegoing audience with his formula driven so-called comedies (recent examples include Mr. Deeds and Little Nicky). His minions include Rob Schneider, who also releases similar films. He is like a plague upon movie theaters, yet people still fork over millions to watch his films. Now, given a chance to be in a serious film, Sandler shows that he is capable of more. His role in Punch-Drunk Love works because of auteur Paul Thomas Anderson (Magnolia, Boogie Nights). Anderson takes the generic Sandler movie role and upends it, twisting towards his own unique vision. He starts with the typical Sandler character, an ordinary, almost shy guy with a repressed sense of rage. Then, he forgoes the lame voices and all of the stupid jokes and tired situations that occur in Sandler films. Anderson takes the risky elements of this character, the rage, and runs with it. So now, Sandler appears less harmless and actually dangerous. Sandler is Barry Egan, small business owner and harried brother to seven sisters.

Punch-Drunk Love is a strange romantic comedy done in the manner that only Anderson could conceive. It goes in all sorts of bizarre directions, with an overpowering sense of suffocation. Barry feels suffocated by everything around him, his job, his life, and especially his sisters. They nag him and are constantly checking in on him, and Barry feels that he has no control of his life. This feeling slowly builds up inside him until he releases it, with typically violent results. He even confides to a brother-in-law that he believes that something is wrong with him, but he doesn't know what. Barry is truly a strange person. He is smart enough to figure out a loophole in a frozen foods frequent flier miles program (based on actual events) but dumb enough to give all his information to a phone-sex operator he calls when he wanted company. The latter event comes back to haunt him, interfering with a new relationship with Lena (Emily Watson, Red Dragon, Gosford Park). He is fascinated with a discarded harmonium and wears an electric blue suit he bought just for the heck of it for days on end.

Lena is strange only in that she doesn't seem to mind any of Barry's quirks. She actively pursues him despite all his weirdness, which only increases at they get closer. Watching Punch-Drunk Love is like watching a noose slowly tightening. Try as he may, Barry cannot focus exclusively on getting to know Lena. Something always interferes. His sisters are still nag him for whatever, and any little thing can set off his temper. Worse, the people from the phone sex line are trying to extort money from him. There is a lot less going on than there was in Magnolia, but because this is Anderson and the Barry character is so off-kilter, there is no predicting where the story is going to go so it keenly holds the interest of the audience. To keep this claustrophobic atmosphere, Anderson piles on the events, having one happen after another. He effectively uses Jon Brion's (Magnolia, Hard Eight) cacophonous score, which has everything from symphonic music to noise to add a frenetic pacing to the movie. Above all, it is Sandler, whose amazing performance, paradoxically, would not be as strong if he wasn't already known for his idiotic movies.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 45 minutes, Rated R for strong languague including a scene of sexual dialogue.

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