I don’t think I’ve ever met a person who doesn’t like Adam Sandler, or at the very least, hasn’t seen one of his films. I’m a huge fan of Sandler and I’ve seen much of his work, but I must admit that I had neither seen nor heard of Punch-Drunk Love. Seeing him in Punch-Drunk Love made me wonder if this could really be the Sandler we all know and adore. Just how Michael Cera is type-cast as the nerdy virgin, Sandler is the humorous underdog. There’s an undeniable trend in the films that he stars in. Sandler almost always plays the unlikely hero. Take the films Little Nicky, Mr. Deeds, Happy Gilmore, Click, and Water Boy for starters: Sandler lives out a relatively meek and reserved existence, until one day, something either bad happens or he’s given some unique opportunity and it turns his world upside down.
We see the same kind of trend in Punch-Drunk Love. Sandler’s character is the underdog, but not quite so humorous in ways that we are familiar with. There’s a certain awkwardness that comes about when laughing at him. Some of the scenes are really pitiful (like when he’s talking to the phone sex operator) and the viewer may find himself torn between sympathizing and laughing. Usually, it’s the latter that prevails. However, the character of Barry Egan is unlike any I’ve ever seen in Sandler’s work, before or since. Sure, he plays odd characters like Nicky and Bobby (Water Boy), but those characters are obviously written that way for fun. What makes the character of Barry Egan uncomfortable to watch at times is that his oddness is so believable. Constantly shunned, misunderstood, bullied, and downright sad – one really can’t blame the guy for being a bit weird, and in the end, your heart just breaks a little for him. It was the first time I had ever seen Sandler play such a difficult role, and I must say, he pulled it off amazingly.
There are many films wherein one can tell if the characters are being overacted, or a certain element is being forcibly portrayed. What makes Punch-Drunk Love so great is that Barry’s intermittent over-the-top attitude seems so natural for a character such as he. Just seeing him tear things apart is unexplainably satisfying. As if there is some repressed urge in all of us to obliterate our surroundings. It’s one of the things that makes his character absolutely lovable. It’s impossible to not root for him in your seat.
The film is often quite bizarre and absurd at times, but it is precisely this bizarreness and absurdity that amplifies the romantic aspect. It doesn’t make the film any cheesier than the average romantic comedy. Surprisingly, it does the opposite. When Barry confronts the mattress storeowner and says, “I have a love in my life and it makes me stronger than anything you can imagine,” I expected to vomit all over myself. I didn’t. I smiled. I actually smiled, damn it. I couldn’t figure out why I had smiled instead of cringing. I mean, come on – “I have a love in my life that makes me stronger than anything you can imagine…” That line is older than a retirement home, but for some strange reason, I could not dislike the fact that he said it.
This forced me to look at my relationship with my girlfriend, and then I realized that she makes me feel the exact same way. I know, I know. I couldn’t have said anything cheesier, and I apologize if you’re involuntarily gagging. What she and I have is nothing unique – there are hundreds of millions of other couples experiencing the exact same thing. However, that doesn’t make it any less genuine. If there’s one thing that Punch-Drunk Love teaches, it’s that love (and subsequently, the expression of it) is a ridiculous thing. It must be ridiculous and unprecedented because there is no formula, there is no procedure when it comes to expressing intimacy.
That’s exactly what makes it love.