Any film that has its male lead utter the line 'I feel like I want to smash your face with a hammer' as a midcoital sweet nothing has more than its share of scary monsters swimming just below the surface.
Punch-Drunk Love ratchets up the bizarre by having comic naÃf Adam Sandler as its lovesick lead. As shy, socially inept warehouse worker Barry Egan, Sandler (in what must be seen as a bid for respectability outside his usual milieu of whackjob post-adolescents and emotionally underdeveloped con men) takes his usual shtick to the obvious conclusion. No longer constrained by 'mainstream' comedic mores, his Barry, while calm on the outside, is a veritable maelstrom of barely contained rage within. Prone to inexplicable crying jags and bouts of explosive violence (his repair bills for all the holes in his walls must be crippling), Barry embarks on a whirlwind romance with the equally tentative Lena (Emily Watson), who appears just as bewildered by life as he does.
Subplots abound. Barry is in a minor war with a mysterious phone-sex operator trying to blackmail him, and he's found a way to exploit a marketing loophole in a frozen-food giveaway that could potentially nab him a million frequent-flyer miles for a measly $3,000. Sandler is excellent in the part, making you ache to see Barry win something ' anything ' from life. He's God's lonely man running on empty, Travis Bickle without the guns, and all the nameless, faceless Joes who litter the periphery of life.
Watson's role is sorely underwritten. She's serving double duty as the female lead and Barry's newfound raison d'Ãtre, but her performance seems to be lost amid the shouting going on between Barry and everyone else. Philip Seymour Hoffman is terrific, though, in what is little more than a demented cameo. And director Paul Thomas Anderson's hallmark stylistics ' long takes, screwball music choices and some seriously warped sound design ' are utilized in new ways. This isn't Magnolia or Boogie Nights (for starters, it's only 95 minutes long), and Anderson fanatics might find it oddly sedate compared to his usual smorgasbord of human chaos. Sandler's regular fan base, too, will probably leave the theater scratching their heads. But don't let that dissuade you from seeing this unconventional and idiosyncratic love story from the depths of nowheresville.