He wore a long-haired wig in Airheads. Then Adam Sandler debated whether shampoo was better than conditioner in Billy Madison. He cursed and ran around on golf courses in Happy Gilmore. He got angry and pummeled people on football fields in The Waterboy. And in Big Daddy, Sandler taught a kid to urinate on public buildings.
But in Punch-Drunk Love, Barry Eagan (Sandler) calls a phone-sex operator and sells decorative toilet plungers. Oh, Barry also collects frequent flier miles with pudding coupons.
For the first time on screen, the one-time Saturday Night Live comedian who’s best known for his Hanukkah song, actually morphs into a full-fledged character.
While he still beats things up, a familiar Sandler trait, and is socially awkward, something we’ve seen from him before, this performance seems different.
There’s no question that director Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights) lends legitimacy to an Adam Sandler movie. But here, it’s a different kind of show. It’s almost an experiment — a little project that Anderson schemed up to get Sandler out of doing stupid comedies and start doing serious work.
Punch-Drunk Love is billed as a romantic comedy. Sandler’s closest attempt in this genre was The Wedding Singer, a very entertaining flick. But while Punch-Drunk is certainly the oddest romantic comedy to come along perhaps ever, it still ends up in the same place where Sweet Home Alabama has its audience.
And that is a testament to the overall quality of the Sandler-Anderson project.
If you are not an Adam Sandler fan, you probably will not enjoy this movie. The story centers on his character. You have to buy the fact that we are watching a good person underneath the trappings of a bona fide loser.
If you are an Adam Sandler fan, you might also not enjoy this flick because it’s not the typical tripe you are used to from him. Rather, what the audience gets is an actor in the midst of a transition period. He is laying the groundwork.
This is really about a lonely pervert who meets a girl, destroys bathrooms and has seven sisters who treat him like mud. Through Sandler’s ability to convey goofy and disturbed better than Jerry Lewis ever could, the audience is willing to take this ride even though its bumps come with an abruptness that rival any sudden car crash.
With this role, he has been compared to Jimmy Stewart and Humphrey Bogart – two guys who played different variants of themselves in each of their memorable characters but had the uncanny ability to convince audiences, or at least have them fill the seats.
We know Sandler can do the latter. Let’s just see if they keep coming when he doesn’t rely on bathroom humor and slapstick comedy.
But hey, that’s just, like, my opinion, man.
Contact Will Albritton at firstname.lastname@example.org