Punch-Drunk Love
***.7 GM
Starring: Adam Sandler, Emily Watson, Luis Guzman, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Mary Lynn Rajskub


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Ladies and gentlemen, this is what Adam Sandler has been goofily and awkwardly evolving towards for a while now. A lot of folks might go "Adam Sandler in a not-completely-stupid comedy? Surely you jest! What of our beloved Canteen Boy? Bobby Boucher? Little Nicky?" Okay, maybe nobody says Nicky is beloved, but the point remains. Sandler has played weirdos for zany comic effect, and it's interesting to finally see him play one in a relatively subdued romantic dramedy. It translates really well.

Sandler plays Barry Egan, a weird guy in the plunger business who has seven sisters that have needled and harassed him all his life into being a mousy, twitchy, nervous little headcase prone to spastic destructive freakouts when pushed too far, despite his good heart. He's the kind of guy that reads all the fine print on coupons, so he figures out that if he buys a significant amount of cheap-ass pudding, he can get millions of frequent flyer miles. Then he gets set up with Lena (Watson), who is rather inexplicably drawn to him, and he's excited about her, too. It's too bad that he's being harassed by some unscrupulous phone-sex operators who are trying to extort money out of him after he calls them just to have someone to talk to. They even have thugs. This complicates the smooth build of the relationship even more than the fact that he's a closet spazz.

In truth, Sandler's Barry is not far from the sort of character he tends to play anyway. He creates odd personality tics and mannerisms and freaks out very believably. The difference is that instead of having stuff like Henry Winkler dropping his pants a lot or having Rodney Dangerfield as a Grandpa of the Hoary Netherworlds, he just lives in Sherman Oaks and has real people surrounding him. The film takes away the loud, stupid goof circumstances that normally surround this kind of Sandler character and replaces them with touching, awkward, quiet moments of gathering up the bravery to attempt actual interpersonal relationships and trying to hide his own mental defects from everybody else in his life, and not always succeeding.

I would have liked to see more on Lena. I suppose we get enough about her in their bedroom scene to see why she's so drawn to this borderline creepy Barry character, but it couldn't hurt to get a little more. That's about the only complaint I had with the film, though. The rest of it fits the universally accepted definition of 'quirky.' Things like Guzman's chair breaking in the middle of a conversation for no reason at all makes this movie feel solidly based in reality despite the weird.

Are Sandler fans ready for him to grow up a little? We'll see. Also, we have to hope that Sandler growing up won't mean we'll never see "Billy Madison II: Billy Madisoner."

I never get tired of that joke.

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