“Punch-Drunk Love” provides a menagerie of oddities, and fails to make any of them very interesting.
Sadly enough, “Punch-Drunk Love” is based on a true story. David Phillips, a University of California civil engineer, got 1.25 million frequent flier miles by purchasing 12,150 cups of Healthy Choice pudding for a mere $3,000. Writer and Director Paul Thomas Anderson (“Magnolia,” “Boogie Nights”) optioned the rights to Phillips’ story and then, in true Hollywood style, he embellishes until the story loses all credibility.
Protagonist Barry Egan’s (Adam Sandler) life bears too many arbitrary quirks. For starters, he is painfully awkward in social situations due to psychological problems that are neither defined nor resolved. Then there’s Egan’s annoying sisters – not one, not two, but seven annoying sisters.
The trouble begins when Egan decides to call a 1-900 number, not realizing that the “Georgia peach” on the other end of the phone is really a con artist from Provo. Her four brothers go to California to simultaneously punish Egan for being a pervert and steal his money.
Therein lies Artsweek’s, and Bootsy’s, biggest complaint about the movie. Because after all, “What’s a telephone bill?”
In the midst of all this chaos there’s a love story, which is the only part of the movie that actually works. Emily Watson plays Lena Leonard, Egan’s girlfriend, and is one of only two actors to maintain a strong presence while on-screen with Sandler. She’s just quirky enough to match his antics without looking like she’s trying too hard. The other is Philip Seymour Hoffman, who plays Dean Trumbell, the mastermind behind the phone sex operation. He steals the laughs in his scenes with Sandler, which are the funniest in the movie.
Perhaps the most trying moment was watching Sandler cry on demand. The scene certainly brought tears to Artsweek’s eyes, just not the kind he was going for. Sandler obviously needs to fine-tune his dramatic acting skills, but at least he shows potential, especially when acting really pissed-off.
“Punch-Drunk Love” is supposed to be the Adam Sandler movie that isn’t an Adam Sandler movie, and it’s a damn shame that it doesn’t work. It isn’t Sandler’s fault, either – it’s Anderson’s. He fails in both his writing (too cheesy) and directing (too slow). I was bored before the title sequence started, which says a lot. He tries to do too much, and in his attempts to squeeze it all in, drags out the movie. The result is both tiresome and anti-climatic. Loose ends aren’t resolved, and when they are, they’re not satisfying.
The sad truth is that “Punch-Drunk Love” misses the mark and is almost entirely devoid of the funk. Artsweek thinks your money would be better spent on pudding and/or phone sex. Your choice, Baby Baba.