This week:
Punch Drunk Love

Filthy says:
"Almost good."

I have an extraordinary amount of experience in not talking to girls. There are few, if any, who have mastered the skill of sitting in a corner, brooding silently when there is an attractive girl present as well as I have. I can do it for hours without tiring, and I can run through an entire relationship with the girl in my head without ever saying a word to her.

When I sit in the corner of the bar nursing a draft of the cheapest beer on tap, I imagine walking up to the girl, saying hello, being charming and clever, winning her heart. In my mind, we go on a date and have a wonderful time. In my mind, I always pay for the meals and rarely steal tips off other tables. We're a perfect couple and she is devoted to me. In my mind, I do everything I can to make this relationship work, even resisting telling her to get braces and shave her pubic hair more neatly. Something always happens, though. Maybe we have a little imaginary argument because I didn't take out the trash. Maybe she's really stupid and doesn't want to watch "American Idol" or play Strip Yahtzee with me. She starts hounding me about getting a job and not drinking all her cough syrup. There is an accident and I kill her dog. It's the dog's fault, but she irrationally yells at me that I shouldn't use the wood chipper when I'm drunk. Well, what the fuck? When else is it fun to use? Whatever, the little imaginary arguments snowball, and soon we are not speaking; we're sleeping in different rooms, we're not returning the calls from the reception hall or the photographer. I've gone into a weeklong drunken funk, waiting for her to come to her senses and apologize.

In my mind, the pretty girl across the bar does not come to her senses. She moves out of the apartment and starts screwing her ex-boyfriend, the former priest with the Pontiac Fiero. Fuck her, I tell myself. I am emboldened by happy hour's two-for-one drinks, and on my way out, I stop by her seat.

"Fuck you," I spit out before I stumble into the blinding yellow sunshine of autumn.

The pretty girl doesn't understand me. All she knows is that I'm an intoxicated stranger with a foul mouth, but that's only part of who I am. In total, I am a thoughtful, deep person, prone to sensible and justified acts of dark violence and self-inflicted humiliation. If I had the courage to speak to her, she'd know that. Or, better yet, if I found a girl who could read my mind--only the good thoughts, not the ones where I am thinking about boobies or stealing my neighbors Christmas decorations--she would know the depth of my well. I knew a girl once who could read my mind, but after a couple of days, she didn't want to anymore.

My shyness is a handicap I have to live with. When I say "Fuck you" to a girl who's minding her own business, or "those ducks in the creek are planning something," I'm not crazy. I'm stating the product of a complex internal process.

Adam Sandler's Barry Eagan is supposed to be like that in Punch Drunk Love. He confounds those around him with his shyness and bursts of violent rage. He is paralyzed by his inability to communicate or articulate his feelings. When he does manage to express himself, his gaggle of interfering sisters humiliate him for the effort.

Sandler owns his own small business, peddling novelty toilet plungers. He hasn't had a girlfriend in ages. He lives by himself in a tiny apartment, with nobody to talk to except phone-sex operators. He's afraid of almost everyone because of their ability to shatter his fragile psyche, and he confides in his brother-n-law that he doesn't like himself and cries sometimes.

When we first see him, he watches a one-car accident and doesn't try to help. Instead, he steals a harmonium that is mysteriously dropped off in front of him. He meets Emily Watson, a co-worker of one sister's who appears to be nearly as fragile as him and is attracted to him. The power of love is then supposed to go to work and draw Sandler out of his shell. Her gentleness and love is supposed to overcome his social awkwardness, and by the end we're supposed to see his decency.

The problem is the phone sex line he called was a scam and its owner (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is extorting him. They send thugs to beat him up, and hurt Watson. Sandler must come out of his shell to defend himself, not for himself, but for the woman he loves.

It would be a nice story, really, except that it never justifies its existence. Much of Punch Drunk Love relies on the old Hollywood axiom: banality plus time equals poignancy. Scenes are drawn and small acts are emphasized, without ever building to much. A consistent tone would have helped, too. I like comedy and I like bleak, but the mixture is like someone alternately shoveling ice cream and steak into my mouth.

Watson's character is a complete cypher. She comes from nowhere, and is given no personality of her own. She just serves the plot as what Sandler's character needs: an overly tolerant, forgiving near saint who is agrressive enough to draw him out. The story would have been much more interesting if two fully-developed desperate people stumbled upon each other, rather than one finding someone too perfect to even be real. She pursues Sandler without knowing him. But why? He's not handsome. He doesn't look sensitive. The movie doesn't give him any quality that would draw a woman's attention. I mean, if girls found desperation and inarticulateness sexy, my retard cousin Larry would be wearing out the Trojan condom factory.

Sandler's character also never becomes sympathetic. In the first scene, he watches a car flip and doesn't do a God-damn thing to help the people in it. He's self-absorbed and immature. Through the rest of the story, he finds love because the perfect girl forces him too, but there's no evidence he's any less self-absorbed or immature. As long as I'm paying my money, I want to see a character whose redemption has meaning beyond his little worlds. Some reason to care.

And Sandler still can't fucking act, but at least he's trying. Sure, a bunch of people will scream "Oscar!" because they don't give a fuck about acting, just celebrities playing against type. It's like Gwyneth Paltrow playing a junkie or Daniel Day Lewis playing a cripple. This movie is certainly better than Sandler's fuckwit low-brow comedies, but if this is as good Sandler gets when he's trying really, really hard, he's no Ricardo Montalban. It's most noticeable in the quiet scenes where he draws nothing from his face except expressionlessness. There is no subtlety or depth, just a chubby face staring at the camera.

My complaint was never that Sandler is talentless, it's always been that he's too fucking lazy to use the talent he has. His movies always represent the bare minimum required to be a movie. Punch Drunk Love is an improvement, but not in the right direction. It's an old tradition for comedic actors to appear in big, dramatic movies in order to be taken seriously. Then they can get gold trophies to shove up their asses and finally feel that they are respected. What Sandler needs, though, is just better comedies. What the fuck is wrong with being funny?

Director Paul Thomas Anderson pulls out a lot of stops to make this a pretty picture to watch. He stages a few beautiful and touching scenes, but I still don't know why. The material doesn't warrant it, and the scenes feel like they came from better movies. He also never settles on a tone. Is this comedy or drama? Is it both? Then why aren't the jokes funnier, or why isn't the drama more meaningful?

In the end, Punch Drunk Love feels like a somewhat successful experiment, done mostly for the sake of seeing it could be. It isn't driven by any passion, and the characters aren't comelling enough to have their stories told. In its best moments, though, it's awfully sweet. Three Fingers.

Want to tell Filthy Something?

Filthy's Reading
Kenneth Grahame - Wind in the Willows

Listening to
Ted Hawkins - Happy Hour

Ginger Snaps

Peter Travers who has a knack for trite cliches

In White Oleander "Michelle Pfeiffer is sensational!"

Comedian is "Funny as hell! It's gold, Jerry, gold!"

The Ring "creeps you out in high style."

In Roger Dodger, "Campbell Scott is sensationally good!"

In Sweet Home Alabama, "Reese rules!"

Bowling for Columbine is "Volcanically funny!" (because we all know how funny volcanos are)

In Punch Drunk Love, "Adam Sandler is absolutely perfect... Emily Watson is sublime... an extraordinary experience."


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