“Punch Drunk Love” blurs the lines

Anna Obergfell

In this unsettling romantic comedy-drama, Adam Sandler debuts his ability to portray a serious character as a man on the verge of schizophrenia. “Punch Drunk Love” is the first time we see a serious side of Sandler in a departure from his signature, immature comedic characters. Director Paul Thomas Anderson uncovers the life of Barry Egan (Sandler) in a bizarre and disturbing way, hiding no quirky mannerisms. The beginning of the story remains in the confines of a bright, broken alleyway that leads to a warehouse where Egan runs his own broken-down shop selling toilet bowl plungers.

In the opening scene, we see a van pull up and drop a harmonium off on the side of the road. After letting it sit overnight, Egan goes to the street and picks it up to take inside with him. Throughout the movie, he refers back to it in times of insecurity or fear and finds comforts in tapping its keys, even if only for a few seconds.

Attacked verbally by his seven sisters and abused by their repeated criticisms, his life has been tainted by their constant badgering and judgment. After a lifetime of pain and anguish under the critical view of his sisters, he develops social anxiety problems that inhibit him from wanting to socialize, especially with women. He also has issues with physical violence. All of his pent up anger is often exposed when his rage is easily set off. Usually the trigger to his anger comes from judgments and mockeries made by his sisters or even the slightest reference to his sisters, to the point of shattering glass and tearing apart a public restroom.

Egan, although seemingly simple on the surface, possesses acute knowledge in specific areas. In a fluke marketing mistake by Healthy Choice, Egan develops a bizarre obsession with a contest which awards American Airline frequent flyer miles in exchange for proof of purchases. After collecting thousands of dollars worth of pudding, Egan accumulates enough miles to travel anywhere he wants for the rest of his life; however, ironically, his character has no desire to travel. In the scenes when he purchases case after case of pudding, the stark white backround of the grocery store is painful to the viewer’s senses. Not only are the bright white lights obtrusive to the audience’s eyes, but the music, in contrast to silence, also leaves the viewer feeling disturbed.

As the movie continues, Egan meets a seemingly normal divorcee who has a strong urge to meet and throw herself at Egan. After asking him out on a date, Lena (Emily Watson) carries him comfortably through the first date and even calls him back to give him a goodnight kiss. Strangely, after hiding his romance from his sister who introduced the two, Egan spontaneously flies to Hawaii to be with Lena on her business trip.

Prior to this excursion, or to any type of romance on Egan’s behalf, he calls a phone-sex hotline. The fraudulent business proceeds to track him down and steal his money. After running hysterically through dark allies and streets to escape the men who chase after him, he uses every means he has to track down the money that was stolen. Upon their next encounter, the con men crash his car and injure Lena. When they go to the hospital, Egan accidentally leaves Lena at the hospital. All alone, her feelings of love for Egan have been smashed as she goes home.

Although the scam with the phone sex encounter and the incessant purchasing of pudding seem like insignificant and unrelated events, the two stories come to a sudden, screeching conclusion when the two lovers discover that they must connect despite the pressures of Egan’s sisters and other untrustworthy people of the world.

This odd movie is not one that I would pay to see again, but it offered different aspects of the abilities that movies have, past the lovey-dovey teen romance or ridiculously sadistic comedies that have narrowed our movie options. This movie of few characters serves a larger purpose: to get past the unnecessary and superfluous details of life to find meaning and love.