When Paul Thomas Anderson said he was making a comedy with Adam Sandler, people undoubtedly scoffed at him. I know I would have if I had known about this film back then. However, he proved that you should never question him as a director. Much like a Kubrick or a few other auteurs, I’m not necessarily the biggest fan of Anderson, but you have to admit his films are interesting and very much their own entity.
Punch-Drunk Love is a comedy certainly, but not in your typical sense. It’s a romance, but it’s not quite like any romance I’ve ever seen. Thanks to the bolstering performance of Adam Sandler, it’s whimsical and odd. He plays Barry, a rather passive and antisocial type, who seems constantly quelled by the dominating personalities of his many sisters.
He’s obsessed with buying up pudding for a chance at frequent flyer miles, he picks up a harmonium tossed on the road-side, and most of all he’s lonely, but he’s not comfortable going on dates. His sister tries to set him up with a nice friend of hers who happens to be British (Emily Watson). Barry rejects an offer to go out to breakfast with them and out of loneliness calls a phone sex line. Out of stupidity, he hands over his credit card info, and the rest becomes a big scam that he can’t escape.
Thus, his work phone at the office is ringing off the hook from a girl trying to steal his money. His sister is continually trying to set him up, and Barry seems to live in his own little weird world at times, overflowing with his own personal odd ticks and quirks. He also has an anger problem, meaning he’s bad news if you give him a hammer.
At times the film is thoroughly unsettling and nervously, uncomfortably funny, thanks in part to Sandler, but also the pervasively weird sound design that utilizes the harmonium. At his core, Barry is a lonely and confused man, aren’t we all, and it reveals a depth to Sandler that many probably have not seen before. It helps that the sweet Emma Watson makes us believe he is likable and in truth, he is somewhat endearing in how he can get lost in an apartment building or always wears the same blue suit. He even follows her to Hawaii for the sake of love. But don’t get any wrong ideas. This is nowhere near the realm of 50 First Dates.