Tuesday, March 16, 2010
I don't know if there's a type of film that Paul Thomas Anderson can't make. He flawlessly weaves two-plus hour epics in the vein of Magnolia and There Will Be Blood, and he can also take one man, Adam Sandler, and turn his on-screen persona into a mesmerizing ninety minute picture. This 2002 film, Punch-Drunk Love, is a wholly unique take on romantic cinema, and not many people would expect this type of achievement to be headlined by an actor like Sandler.
Contrary to many, I wouldn't necessarily call this film a comedy. There are many funny moments, but Sandler makes them painfully funny. Throughout much of this film, it hurts to laugh. The actor's work is so intense that laughing doesn't completely do justice to the types of layers that are involved. There are many more negative feelings in the character than there are positive ones. On multiple occasions, there are evident feelings of hatred and anger, and not until the latter portion of the film do wee see his brighter side appear. It's not a comfortable film.
Sandler's character is Barry Egan, the man in the blue suit, and a small-time business owner who is harassed by his seven sisters on a daily basis. He does his best to keep them at arm's length, but it's only a matter of time until one of them sets him up on a blind date. The woman he is set up with is Lena Leonard, played beautifully by Emily Watson in a very tricky role. She has the tough task of making her character more than a cliche, while still not overshadowing Sandler, who is clearly meant to be the star of this film.
Anderson regular Philip Seymour Hoffman, the man set to star in the director's upcoming The Master, plays the owner of an illegally run phone-sex hotline, who runs into some trouble when he tries to con the overly protective Barry into giving him some money. This film, however, is all built around the central romance, and the only other supporting player worth mentioning is Jon Brion's score. Anderson is usually a heavy collaborator with his composers, and this go around was no different. Brion actually created the score during the filming process, trying endlessly to capture the mood that Anderson was trying to create. Brion's final product, an overbearing flood of harmonium, combined with Anderson's bright color contrasts, provide a perfect sensory representation of Sandler's character, even going so far as to carry the film at certain points.
This is by far the actor's career-best performance, and although Anderson makes his brilliant tonal control is evident throughout this film, I will remember Punch-Drunk Love mostly because of Sandler's work. He is such a talented actor, and although some of his other films (The Waterboy, Happy Gilmore, Billy Madison) are certainly good for a few laughs, they fail to reveal the true depth this actor possesses. He is capable of some special things, and I wish he'd attack the drama department with a little more force. His performance in Judd Apatow's Funny People is good enough, and even though the film is well-intentioned, it is essentially a two-and-a-half hour waste, diminishing most of the work Sandler put into that character. In my opinion, Apatow isn't the right man for the job, but hopefully someone else with a better feel for Sandler can step up.
Even though Sandler received a Golden Globe nod for this performance, it still feels as if the film is overlooked. Anderson's name is more synonymous with the previously mentioned epics, while Sandler has had trouble escaping his public image as Billy Madison. If you haven't already, you should take the time to watch this film, and to witness the collaboration between two creative minds during the prime of their lives.
Paul Thomas Anderson won Best Director at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival. Here is a press conference: