Posts Tagged ‘Adam Sandler’

From the Hootoo archive. Originally published 29th May 2003: 

Principles are important in life. To this day I can proudly affirm that no, I have never rustled cattle, taken a bogus sicky, or impersonated a member of the Polish parliament. But this world is naught but change and I’m afraid that one of the more cherished of these claims is no longer true, because – and believe me, starting the Twelve-Step programme was a walk in the park compared to making a declaration like this one – I have paid to see an Adam Sandler movie at the cinema.

Don’t be too harsh with me, please, because the film in question is not of the same ilk as the stuff that Sandler usually delights us with. This time round he’s in Punch Drunk Love, the latest offering from Paul Thomas Anderson, the man behind Magnolia and Boogie Nights. Both those films were very long and very busy. Punch Drunk Love is not.

Sandler plays Barry Egan, a Los Angeles bathroom-fittings supplier. Barry has grown up with seven domineering sisters and as a result of this his screws are wound just a bit too tight. Most of the time he is a quiet if slightly neurotic fellow, but occasionally he explodes into bouts of berserk violence against inanimate objects.

But Barry is about to find an outlet for his emotions when he meets Lena (Emily Watson), a co-worker of one of his sisters. Their romance is, however, made somewhat unorthodox by the oddness of Barry’s life. A harmonium is inexplicably deposited on the sidewalk outside his office, and of course he feels the need to appropriate it. Barry is also involved in a very peculiar scam to claim air-miles from a pudding promotion. And to top it all off he is also being blackmailed by the proprietor of a phone-sex chat line (Philip Seymour Hoffman) he unwisely made use of one night.

There’s really no other way of putting it: this is a strange, strange film. Anderson seems to tear up the rulebook, not just of the rom-com genre (which this arguably is, albeit in a rather strained way), but of cinema itself. He uses long takes for much of the action, an impressive feat in itself given how complex some of the scenes are. A car-crash occurs out of nowhere at the end of a ten-second shot and is all the more startling for it. A repeated trick is to cut from a busy, noisy shot to one of stillness and quiet, or vice versa. The soundtrack reverberates with odd rhythms playing over and merging into one another.

This actually intersects quite well with the story, which has – if you’ll excuse a desperate oxymoron – a kind of surreal naturalism. The kind of things that happen in real life but never normally get shown in the movies do get shown in this one. Stuff happens in the background for no good reason and adds nothing to the plot. A preoccupied Sandler goes on a cross-country trip, carrying his office phone all the way with him. Anderson subverts the usual romance story – rather than showing us two people who instantly dislike each other, but who are thrown together and discover they actually get on rather well, Adam and Lena are smitten from the start – but find life throwing various bizarre obstacles in their way. He even manages the remarkable coup of making it credibly seem that the two leads may not end up together.

And as for the comedy – well, I thought this was quite a funny film, although I couldn’t tell you why, and while everyone in the cinema was laughing at least some of the time, it wasn’t always together. Most of the time this is down to Sandler flying off the handle or committing some odd social faux pas. He’s hugely likeable throughout the film and while his aptitude for broad physical comedy should not come as a great shock, his ability to hold his own in a dramatic scene with Philip Seymour Hoffman should. Emily Lloyd has a slightly tricky, reactive role opposite him, but she turns in another impeccable performance.

It was always going to be a monumental challenge for Anderson to top Magnolia, one of the very best films of recent years, and probably wisely he’s opted to make a film that can’t really be compared to it, or to virtually anything else I can think of either. But its unique style and atmosphere make Punch Drunk Love a considerable achievement in its own right – just don’t expect a film like any other you’ve seen before.

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published June 12th 2003

Ah, hubris – attentive masochists will recall that, before last week’s doggy-paddle through the lagoon of fond remembrance [the previous issue was a ‘best-of’ compilation – A], I took the opportunity to proudly proclaim that prior to Punch Drunk Love I had never paid to see an Adam Sandler movie, and that anyway that didn’t count, it was a special case what with it being an art movie and all.

Well, let me tell you, kids, you should never go shooting your mouth off about things like that because would you believe that this week I found myself trundling along to see Sandler’s latest offering, Anger Management. Obviously, there is no safe dose where Sandler is concerned – if you want to stay clear of the slippery slope to critical damnation, total abstinence is the only path to follow.

Anger Management, directed by Peter Segal, sees Sandler playing, as usual, a dweeby, dorky, sports-loving, romantic, violent psychotic. On this occasion his name is Dave. After an altercation with the flight attendants on an internal flight snowballs out of control Dave finds himself sentenced to anger management therapy with the unorthodox Dr Buddy Rydell, portrayed with predictable sensitivity and restraint by Jack Nicholson. Buddy’s approach to therapy seems to be to manipulate Dave into situations where fisticuffs, property damage and ritual humiliation are the most likely outcomes, which causes his patient some concern. Will Dave be able to escape from Buddy’s clutches and find permanent happiness with his girlfriend Linda (Marisa Tomei)?

Well, frankly I couldn’t have cared less about that by the end of the story, but there is much fun to be had along the way, even though this is a movie whose IQ slowly deteriorates over the course of its duration. Once a worryingly crass flashback is out of the way, the film’s first fifteen minutes are by far its sharpest and wittiest: Sandler’s entirely justified complaints to airline staff are met with chilly stares and the mantra ‘Our country’s going through a difficult time right now’ – this kind of mockery of the USA’s post-September 11th mindset is startlingly edgy material for a mainstream comedy, and it’s followed up with some equally good gags at the expense of political correctness and over-litigiousness.

But once this is done with, something rather odd happens to the film. It appears to turn into a sort of holiday resort for well-known and respected character actors who fancy a bit of a break and the chance to do things they don’t normally get to. And so a host of familiar faces swarm into view, all of them seemingly intent not so much on going over the top as actually physically launching themselves into orbit. The roll call includes John Turturro, Woody Harrelson, John C Reilly, Heather Graham, Harry Dean Stanton and Luis Guzman.

Ringmaster of this demonic cavalcade is, of course, Jack. Jack Nicholson has twelve Oscar nominations. Write that down on a piece of paper, take it into the theatre with you, and keep looking at it, because you will need some physical evidence of the fact just to reassure yourself that your memory isn’t playing up. Remember the subtlety, nuance, and texture he brought to his role in About Schmidt? Well, hang on to that thought as none of those things are on display here. This is Nicholson almost as self-parody, a crazed, priapic wild man. His eyebrows bounce around like kittens on a hotplate, and his grin is so broad the ends are in different time zones. One almost feels sorry for Sandler, who visibly quails at the prospect of having to compete with all this and in the end settles for playing straight man, and in a rather restrained fashion at that.

This is not without its charms and there are a good many laughs along the way. But the plot is a collection of set pieces, an episodic shambles that starts running out of steam very fast, and the climax drowns in glutinous, all-American sentimentality of the most objectionable kind – it’s not helped by smug cameos from John McEnroe and Rudy Giuliani, amongst others.

For all Nicholson’s prominence in the advertising, and indeed plot, of this film, don’t be under any false impressions. This is traditional Adam Sandler fare all along the line, distinguished only by the presence of Nicholson and company, who manage to simultaneously seem horribly incongruous yet also the best thing about the film. When Sandler has to carry the film on his own, it’s a grim and joyless slog – but his co-stars are around enough to make this brainless, insubstantial fun. Still, a bit of a missed opportunity.

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