Punch Drunk from Modern Life: Philip Kerr Finds Too Much Psychobabble and Urban Angst Hard to Swallow. (Film)
Kerr, Philip, New Statesman (1996)
If this film is to be enjoyed, it needs to be approached with the diminished expectations of anyone going to see a movie starring Adam Sandier. The strange thing is, it's not a normal Sandier vehicle, in that it's directed by someone -- Paul Thomas Anderson -- who knows what he's doing. Anderson directed Boogie Nights and Magnolia, but you have to forget about those pictures because, sadly, Punch Drunk Love isn't in the same league. If you go and see this movie imagining that it's going to be as good as Magnolia (which, by the way, was much overrated), then you're certain to be disappointed. But if you expect it to be no better than Little Nicky or Mister Deeds, then it's possible you might actually enjoy it. You get the idea.
Regular readers of the NS will know I am not a fan of Sandier; but the last time I was in the States, the TV and newspapers were all reporting that PDL was "easily one of the best movies of the year" (Orlando Sentinel) and that Adam Sandier, "liberated from the constraints of formula, reveals unexpected depths as an actor" (Chicago Sun-Times). I bought the hype. I went and saw the movie, actually expecting that some of this was going to be true. Hooray for you, I told myself. You're the kind of guy who's ready to give Adam Sandier an even break. Besides, I told myself, the film co-stars Emily Watson and well, you've always rather fancied her, ever since she made love to a cello in Hilary and Jackie. If Emily was in the movie, then how bad could it be?
The film starts promisingly enough. Barry Egan (Sandier) works for a company selling novelty plumbing supplies, though his mind is really on a harmless little scam he has going involving air miles. He is a lonely, neurotic man living under the tyranny of seven sisters, and his huge anger at the world for making him feel like a jerk is never far below the surface. Working late one night, he goes outside for a breath of air. A second or two later, a van draws up and dumps a harmonium on the street right in front of Barry, who legs it back to his office carrying the instrument.
The presence of this harmonium is never explained, but I would guess that we are supposed to believe that it is somehow symbolic of a change in the heavenly scheme of things vis-a-vis Barry. That maybe God has stopped playing Barry's keyboard and decided to let him hit some notes of his own, for good or bad. …