PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE is another overrated film by writer/director Paul
Thomas Anderson (MAGNOLIA and BOOGIE NIGHTS). Most people, however,
will remember the picture not for the writer/director but for its
star, Adam Sandler, who delivers his first serious performance. (Emily
Watson, in an underwritten part, plays Barry's girlfriend.) Although
the movie is a romantic comedy -- with whimsy and random violence
thrown into the mix -- Sandler plays his character completely straight.
If he sometimes gets laughs, it is because of the material and not
his comedic antics. Speaking of the material, it is rather strange,
being a romantic comedy without any real romance and with only a few
laughs. Only as a character study of a weird loner does the movie have appeal.
Barry Egan (Sandler) is cursed with seven sisters, each of which henpeck
him to death. Since he hasn't had a date in eons -- when young, his
sisters taunted him by calling him "gay boy" -- he turns to a sex
phone line for companionship. After divulging every important number
in his life, he is finally able to speak with a woman who is only
interested in phone sex and money. After just talking with her, he
becomes the subsequent target of her harassment. Not only does she
call him day and night, she also sends over some of her unsavory relatives to do him harm.
Meanwhile back at work, Barry is busying accumulating pudding cups
to win airline mileage, which he plans on converting into cash and/or
tickets. This part of the story, which is inspired by a real-life
incident, is the most interesting part. It is while collecting pudding
in a supermarket that Barry does his brief shuffle in the aisles that
many reviewers are calling his dance number, which is a stretch.
If Sandler is a song-and-dance man at heart, we can't tell it by this
few second jig, sans music or singing.
I enjoyed watching Sandler prove that he can play someone besides
himself. But let's not blow this out of proportion as some have,
suggesting that his work in the film is worthy of Oscar consideration.
The film and Sandler's performance are sometimes entertaining but instantly forgettable.
PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE runs 1:29. It is rated R for "strong language including
a scene of sexual dialogue" and would be acceptable for teenagers.
Copyright © 2002 Steve Rhodes