[MOVIE REVIEW]Convoluted and weird, ‘Punch-Drunk’ worksYou gotta hand it to the guy. Some people repress their anger, but not Barry Egan (Adam Sandler). If he’s feeling a little testy, he lets it all hang out. Casualties of Barry’s “anger management” technique include his sister’s plate-glass window and a restaurant bathroom.
Given his propensity for “beating up bathrooms,” as one character puts it, it would be an understatement to say that dating doesn’t come easy for Barry. Which is a shame, because otherwise he’s not a bad catch: He runs a successful business selling novelty toilet plungers for Las Vegas hotel bathrooms. And, well, okay, that’s really his only strong point.
Truth is, Barry doesn’t just border on freakish ― he’s the real deal. But that doesn’t stop his seven squabbling sisters from trying to get him a life and a girlfriend. Nor Barry from trying his luck with a late-night telephone “chat” line, which brings into his life a shady furniture salesman (played with unctuous aplomb by Philip Seymour Hoffman).
It also puts Barry on the bad side of the furniture guy’s brooding, violent Mormon minions, who come out of the Utah hills in a dusty pickup truck to “teach Barry a lesson.”
Sound slightly convoluted? Well, the director Paul Thomas Anderson’s films are known more for their innovation than their clarity. His quirky, rambling style worked well for the equally weird world of ’70s porn in “Boogie Nights” (1997), but not so well in his heavy-handed, overarching “Magnolia” (1999). With “Punch-Drunk Love,” he’s back to his old tricks, and this time they are effective.
As the title suggests, love is the theme of the day. Enter Lena (Emily Watson), who works with one of Barry’s sisters and becomes smitten with Barry after she catches a glimpse of his picture one day. She’s consistently unfazed by Barry’s creative on-the-spot redecoration of public bathrooms. She even invites him to take a trip to Hawaii with her.
The trouble is, Lena seems so nice, so perkily sane, that she could only have some superficial reason for pursuing Barry. Eventually it becomes clear: She thinks he looks like ― Adam Sandler.
Okay, this is a fantasy, after all. And a light one at that, despite the fact that at times Barry and Lena’s hapless antics are just too painful to watch. But whenever the viewer isn’t squeamishly averting his eyes, watching this quirky romance develop is enjoyable, building to the point at which Barry must confront the sinister furniture dude and move on with his life.
Nothing is really memorable or novel about any of this. But still, “Punch-Drunk Love” manages to pull you into its strange little world. So much so that when Barry makes his final declaration about the power and nature of love it sticks with you ― at least for awhile.
by Jason Zahorchak