Spoiler Warning

Always assume Spoilers and possible profanity in context. These are often adult themed movies.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Punch Drunk Love

Punch Drunk Love is a great example of perfect casting. Adam Sandler's character, Barry Egan, feels like a natural extension of the characters Sandler has played in the past; the good hearted, immature, prone to outbursts, character he's played in his own films.

Barry is just a little different though, while still immature and socially inept, he strives at all costs to maintain a calm environment. Barry is busy running his own business, which is one aspect of his life that satisfies him. Initially, director Paul Thomas Anderson accentuates Barry's introversion with colors and sounds, focusing on cool blues, in Barry's suit jacket and heavily throughout the background. The beginning also starts out with almost no background noise, only the sounds of what actually occurs.

Barry is on the phone with the representative of a food company which is offering airline miles for proof of purchases. Barry can't help but obsess over the details of the promotion, realizing that the prize is worth more than the purchase. He clearly derives satisfaction from exercising control over small aspects of his life. He attempts to keep everything ordered and controllable., with clear terms and conditions.

However, Barry's first day here is not ordinary. It starts out with Barry walking outside his warehouse/office early in the morning to witness a car crashing out of control, on the otherwise empty street, followed by a taxi stopping to drop a harmonium on the street and then speeding off. This is soon followed up by Lena Leonard (Emily Watson)  parking her car in a rush to get somewhere and asking Barry to keep an eye on it. Barry is uncomfortable talking to her but quickly agrees to help her. Lena's appearance introduces more color to the film, her bright orange dress practically burns up the screen contrasted with Barry's deep blue jacket.

Once Lena leaves, Barry can't help but grab the harmonium still enchanted by it's appearance. He runs it into his warehouse as if being chased. The background music starts as Barry toys with it. He's soon interrupted when his employee, Lance (Luis Guzman) show up, opening the overhead door and starling Barry with the bright sunlight breaking into his serene world. A source of anxiety is soon exposed as Barry tries to deal with customers, while his seven sisters continually call to interrupt. They all speak abusively, trying to make sure he'll be at their party in the evening.

Barry is clearly bothered by the party, his seven sisters pressing him on how they used to call him"gayboy" He tries to avoid confrontations as much as possible, although at one point he realizes he's been walking around carrying a hammer for no apparent reason. When they ask him teasingly if he's still gay. He can only respond by mumbling "I don't know." They don't let up, teasing him relentlessly. Barry finally has an outburst and kicks some glass doors to pieces. Afterwards, he asks his brother in law Walter for help.
Barry: I wanted to ask you something because you're a doctor... I don't like myself sometimes. Can you help me?
Walter: Barry, I'm a dentist. What kind of help do you think I could give you?

Barry soon decides to relieve his loneliness by calling a 900 line to talk to a girl. He isn't very interested in talking dirty, although the girl, "Georgia" keeps pushing in that direction. He insists on a fake name and keeping everything confidential. He rebuffs every sexual innuendo as if he just wants to hear a woman's voice.  He does tell the girl that he has a girlfriend, and tells her he's doing well in business. He tells her "You sound very nice... and personable..." She calls him back the next morning as he's about to leave for work asking him for money. When he says he can't afford it, she continues pushing, even threatening to call back and talk to his girlfriend and reminding him that she has his credit card information. He quickly cancels his card at the office, eliciting escalating threatening phone calls. The music grows more frantic in the background as if to mimic Barry's state.

One of Barry's sister's arrives, with Lena, who it turns out is a friend she had wanted Barry to meet. Lena needs to pick up her car and his sister asks Barry to go to breakfast with them. Barry declines, presumably not wanting to make an impression on someone with his sister present.Barry shuffles harrassing phone calls, his sister pressuring him, and Lena trying to chat with him. In the warehouse, the workers start dropping things from the fork lift, adding to the chaos. Lena says she's going to Hawaii, and Barry mentions that he was thinking of going there too, thinking of his flier miles. Sensing how busy he is Lena and Barry's sister leave, but Lena turns around once his sister leaves and asks Barry out to dinner. Georgia, angered that he keeps hanging up, tells him that it's war now.

Georgia's boss, Dean Trumbell (Philip Seymour Hoffman) thinking Barry is rich, sends some guys out to visit Barry. Trumbell is  a total sleaze, who even cheats the guys he's sending out when they question him about changing their agreement for payment, he responds, "When it doesn't make sense think about it from a fair dealing sense." He directs them to "hit him at his house first."

Barry and Lena are out to dinner. Lena admits that she staged dropping her car off in order to meet him. They seem to hit it off well and Barry struggles through his difficulty, even telling jokes to her and letting her in on the pudding promotion (which he doesn't want people to become aware of as it might end the promotion) Lena relates a story Barry's sister told about him throwing a hammer through a glass door. This prompts Barry to go to the bathroom. While he's there he destroys the bathroom and is confronted by the manager on returning to the table. He pulls Barry to the side and asks him to leave while Lena waits at the table. They talk more as Barry drives her home,and she tells him as he leaves her apartment that she'll be back in a few days. She then calls for Barry at the front desk of her building, catching him just before he leaves, sending him running back up for a kiss.

Arriving home, Barry gets jumped by Trumbell's guys, who abduct him and bring him to an ATM. He withdraws $500.00 and one of them says "this is what you get for being a pervert." When Barry tries to set the record straight, explaining that he declined to help Georgia, one of the guys punches him and knocks him to the ground. Barry takes off running, although they chase him. He runs wildly through alleys for a while and running down the street, they pull up beside him in a truck and remind him that they know where he lives, before driving off.  Barry decides he's going to go to Hawaii to get away. He enlist Lance to help him buy more pudding to get enough miles to go. The pudding company, however informs him that processing takes 6-8 weeks prompting Barry to punch a wall and break down sobbing. Barry decides to pay for the trip himself, leaving Lance in charge with a reminder not to tell his sisters.

Barry arrives in Hawaii and asks his sister where Lena is staying. His sister browbeats him about it and he finally stands up for himself, threatening her.. He finds Lena, they meet and have a wonderful time together. He finally opens up to her, admitting he beat up the bathroom and expressing his affection uniquely:
Barry: I'm lookin' at your face and I just wanna smash it. I just wanna fuckin' smash it with a sledgehammer and squeeze it. You're so pretty.
Lena: I want to chew your face, and I want to scoop out your eyes and I want to eat them and chew them and suck on them.
Barry: OK. This is funny. This is nice.
Lena even takes a call from Barry's sister with Barry listening, keeping up with the pretense that he isn't there. Before leaving Hawaii, Barry leaves a message with Georgia's machine that he wants his money back. Lena asks if she can go home with Barry when they return and he agrees, forgetting that he has people looking for him.

As he's about to pull into his garage, the thug's truck sideswipes them. injuring Lena. Barry is too frantic to be timid and grabbing a tire iron, he beats all of them and smashes the window in their truck. He leaves Lena at the hospital and calls Georgia, now full blown angry. Georgia is coy, which angers him more and he demands a supervisor. Trumbell gets on the phone, but isn't very cooperative

Barry returns to the hospital, but Lena has been discharged. He finds the address for D and D Mattress Man which the 900 call showed as the biller.  He shows up to confront Trumbell, who isn't initally impressed. Barry won't be brushed off though and says:
Barry: I didn't do anything. I'm a nice man. I mind my own business. So you tell me 'that's that' before I beat the hell from you. I have so much strength in me you have no idea. I have a love in my life. It makes me stronger than anything you can imagine. I would say 'that's that', Mattress Man.

He then tracks down Lena, who's upset that he left her at the hospital. He explains the whole situation with the phone call and she forgives him. He explains that once he redeems his miles, he can go with her anywhere she travels.

Punch Drunk love is a movie which takes a lot of care constructing emotion. Anderson, layers his reality uniquely with colors and music, while relying on Sandler to sell the uncomfortability that goes with living in Barry Egan's skin. His constant distress can be painful to watch. He's a mess, but he also has a kind of sweetness and earnestness that you can't help but root for. Barry is where Sandler's character from his own movies could end up if forced into a more serious reality.  I don't know that another actor could pull off Barry Egan, as prior experiece with Sandler heavily informs your feelings towards this character. He's always the lovable screw up, only more repressed here and not nearly as humorous. His outburst here lead to destructive violence, far removed from the over the top for laughs fare you'd laugh at in Billy Madison or Happy Gilmore. And yet, like Sandler's past characters, you really want him to pull things together at the end, and when he does it's a little sweeter, because that ending was not guaranteed.


Widow_Lady302 said...

I had avoided this movie because of Sandler, honestly. I think I might give it a shot now. While, I am almost never a fan of painful discomfort in movies this seems like it has enough depth it will feel right.

Mocking Movies said...

Great review and fantastic movie. It had genuine humor and sweetness while also being dark and unpredictable.

INDBrent said...

Lisa, It's worth a look. It really gives Sandler's best qualities a chance to shine. I have to imagine this part was made for him (and it may well have been.) It's a bit uncomfortable sometimes, but it has tons of heart!

INDBrent said...

Mocking Movies, Thanks for the kind words! I completely agree!