Welcome to the JOE-DOWN, a back-and-forth movie review blog by two snarky newspapermen named Joe from Minnesota, Joe Froemming and Joe Brown. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Froemming picked “Punch-Drunk Love.”
The Movie: “Punch-Drunk Love”
Starring: Adam Sandler, Emily Watson, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) A psychologically troubled novelty supplier is nudged towards a romance with an English woman, all the while being extorted by a phone-sex line run by a crooked mattress salesman, and purchasing stunning amounts of pudding.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 79 percent
Froemming: Adam Sandler is an asshole.
That was the conclusion my buddy and I came to after I watched “Punch-Drunk Love” for the first time in more than 15 years.
Not because he made another bad movie.
Because he made a good one. A really (REDACTED) good one. And “Punch-Drunk Love” showed he can not only be in a good movie, but he can also deliver a solid performance.
He just chooses not to. He chooses to fart out a never-ending stream of stupid Happy Madison (REDACTED).
That. That is what makes Adam Sandler an asshole.
Now, Brown and I have about 75-80 percent in common when it comes to movies, TV shows, music, ect. Paul Thomas Anderson falls in that 20-25 percent that we do not have in common. His work dwells in that area along with KISS, just a part of popular culture we have no idea why the other enjoys.
Brown, as I mentally prepare to wear a new, bright blue suit everyday to work for no real reason, what are your first thoughts?
Brown: I cannot tell you how excited I am to put Sandler Month behind us.
We watched, what, three seasons of “Fuller House?” This was worse.
Case in point: When this movie opens and Adam Sandler is working what looks like a storage garage in Los Angeles, I thought “I wish I could lock Adam Sandler in a storage garage and throw away the key.”
The only thing that brought me joy through Sandler Month was watching “Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood” and watching Cliff Booth kill the Manson Family. I know I sound like a sociopath but I don’t care.
I also don’t care that I’m showing the ending of “Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood.” Because (REDACTED) Adam Sandler.
So, “Punch-Drunk Love”… honestly, after this month, I was gonna hate it. Sandler aside, the only Paul Thomas Anderson movie I’ve seen is “There Will Be Blood” and I nicknamed that movie “There Will Be Boredom.”
So expect extra salt from me today, loyal reader.
Froemming, get us started while I go pick up the harmonium left in the street.
Froemming: This is a weird movie. This is an arthouse goon type of movie, so there are things in it I do not “get.” Such as the beginning, where we meet Barry Egan, a man in a bright blue business suit (color is important in this, that I did get) who walks out of his garage/business to see a vehicle speeding by, it looked like it crashed to me but what is left is a little piano.
I do not understand this, I don’t want to understand this. I just accept this thing is in the movie, and it is either a symbol of something, or a David Lynchian weirdo thing.
What I do get is Barry, who is calling a food company about their promotion, is a very lonely and isolated man (we get this with the constant blue he is wearing, I do get some symbolism people). Why he would want to let the company know about a pretty great loophole in getting easy frequent flyer miles confuses me, but Barry we see is not all there. He has anger issues. He seems depressed, like he just went through a goddamn month of Happy Madison movies. He is bullied by his sisters. He seems to have a lot of anxiety. And if this character got in a fight with Bob Barker, I doubt the TV show game host would fare in a fist fight on a golf course.
Brown: Also, Barry is being coaxed into going to a family party, which is stressful onto itself. It doesn’t help matters when your sister is Gail the Snail and she’s known for giving your uncle a handy under the table.
Froemming: Well, she is just mashing it, Brown!
Brown: Her presence upset me. The only way I was able to calm myself was with more wine in a can.
Anyways, I kept thinking that Barry was a hostage in this empty office building but again, I think I was projecting my own anger at this point of Sandler Month.
So not only did shy-ass Barry see a car crash, but now a woman rolls into the parking lot in a beater asking him when the mechanic next door opens. He gets talked into helping her when the mechanic arrives, but not after leering at this sweet British lady like he’s Jon Lovitz in … Well, I was gonna say “Grown Ups 2,” but let’s just leave it at Jon Lovitz.
(Note: Please don’t sue. I loved “The Critic”)
Then for some reason, amid a bunch of lens flare that directors used to avoid because it breaks immersion, Barry runs into the street, picks up the abandoned harmonium and brings it to his office. I thought it would have been cool if Barry started playing “Crocodile Rock” on it but I’m not allowed to have anything I want in Sandler Month.
So, I’ll put Elton John here because at least that brings me joy.
Froemming: While at work, we see none other than Greendale Community College Alumni Luis Guzmán is one of Barry’s employees. Barry is in what I can only deduce is a fancy, customized plunger business, which in a movie that has a lot of surrealism to it, that may be the oddest part to me.
As he is going through a product for clients, Barry is harassed by his sisters on the phone for the party, wondering if he is going to go. As moments like this happens, the background noise intensifies, as does the music, so I got a mild panic attack on the treadmill watching this. This movie and “Mother!” are two films that kinda get what having social anxiety is like.
Brown: Like you, I deal with anxiety. And I do think this movie does a fine job of using sound to create chaos around Barry’s life.
Froemming: Yeah, the first time I saw this was when I was in my early 20s when my anxiety was really bad (like, hard to go outside bad), so I didn’t like watching movies that triggered it. So I really was not a huge fan of this movie then.
In a rage, Barry breaks an unbreakable plunger. So, we learn pretty early that to express his frustration, Barry gets violent with inanimate objects.
It is not the usually belly-busting laughs at Sandler’s rage we get in “Billy Madison” and “Happy Gilmore,” it is more along the lines of “this guy needs a lot of serious help” kind of belly-busting laughs.
Brown: Yeah, I just wasn’t there with this movie. I don’t really remember laughing.
Brown: It could have been my bitterness at Adam Sandler. It could have been the confusing arthouse style which did lead me to write four times in my notes “What the (REDACTED) am I watching?” It could have been my early thought that this movie was being quirky for the sake of being quirky instead of it having any relevance to anything (always wearing the suit, being a novelty plunger salesman, being obsessed with harmonium, etc.).
The way I can best describe this viewing experience: This was Adam Sandler trying to do a “serious” Nic Cage role.
Froemming: Didn’t Nic Cage win an Academy Award for a serious role? You know what, I am not going down the old Nic Cage rabbit hole here.
Brown: Good. I wouldn’t know how to save you from that Abed-like spiral.
Froemming: So Gail the Snail wants to set Barry up with her friend at this party, but Barry pretty much threatens to not go if she does this. Good for you, Barry. Live your life, man.
And at the party, Barry enters as his sisters are fondly reminiscing on the time they made fun of him and humiliated him to the point that he threw a hammer through a (REDACTED) window.
Ah, good times.
Brown: I mean, you call someone “Gayboy” so often you still off-hand do it as adults, you kind of deserve the rage monster you created. He doesn’t like it. Be better!
Froemming: Did it make you feel more anxiety with how they deal with him not liking this stuff, or when, a little later, he smashes the windows. Like, they are not even aware that they are driving this poor son-of-a-bitch to violence? It did that to me a bit.
Brown: The whole “Gayboy” thing, I got that. I’m the youngest of three siblings. I would be the butt of the jokes for them as kids.
Now, I mock my sister at family events in front of her kids. I don’t feel much guilt over this.
Froemming: So Barry goes to the wrong person for advice: Robert Smigel. You are just asking for the man who made Triumph the Insult Comic Dog to take your secret and somehow make it worse.
So Barry needs a lot of therapy. And his dentist brother-in-law isn’t much help. But to be fair, what do you call someone who failed out of medical school? A dentist. Yeah, I am a rabid anti-dentite.
Brown: When Robert Smigel mentioned he was a dentist, all I thought of was Captain Holt ranting about dentists.
So after a stressful night that culminated in shattering a glass door like Steve Austin was walking into the place, what’s a lonely man to do? After cutting up Healthy Choice coupons (because what’s a Sandler movie without product placement), call a sex hotline?
Now, this is the part of the movie I was snickering at, mostly out of schadenfreude. Like, Barry is clearly getting set up for identity theft, which I would like to remind our audience that identity theft is not a joke!
Honestly, if I called a sex hotline, I would probably act like Barry here: Have a real conversation instead of, you know, masturbating.
Froemming: Yeah, Barry is a loner with nobody to talk to, really. Well, he could talk to the pride of Greendale Community College, Guzmán probably. He seems like a nice enough guy. But no, Barry talks to a phone-sex worker who calls herself Georgia, because states are sexy? I dunno, this is not my field of expertise I guess.
Brown: I think she just wanted to use that Georgia Peach bit. I was seriously hoping Barry would respond like Castor Troy in “Face/Off.”
Froemming: Barry is getting scammed. And if this movie taught me anything, DO NOT scam Adam Sandler. He will show up at your mattress business and scare the bejesus out of you with a phone.
Brown: Meanwhile, Adam Sandler scammed us out of our money with his crappy movies all month.
Froemming: We did this to ourselves. But he is still a real son-of-a-bitch for making a lot of stupid crap.
The next morning Georgia calls wanting money and we quickly see this is not something that is going to go away. She has his credit card, which he smartly cuts up. Which only pisses her off more.
And she calls him nonstop. At work, at home, everywhere. So, it is just piling on this man’s daily dose of severe anxiety issues.
But, his sister brings her friend to his place of business and it is the British woman he helped at the start of the movie. But all the while, the phone is ringing to extort him, a guy gets hurt in the building, his sister is badgering him, so it is not Barry Egan’s best day I guess.
Brown: You know, it’s not hard to get your sister to leave your business, Barry. All you need is some salt.
So yeah, all this chaos is happening around Barry, not to mention he’s got a lot of pudding sitting out in the open in a hot L.A. warehouse.
And yet, this sweet British lady named Lena is still smitten with him…
Why? Is this a continuation of Emily Watson’s portrayal of the blind Reba McClane in “Red Dragon?” Does she understand the utter genius of Barry’s Healthy Choice/frequent flyer miles scam? Is she colorblind and therefore cannot see the Tiananmen Square amount of red flags that is Barry Egan?
Answer: Who the (REDACTED) knows. Lena is attracted to Barry because of a family picture that Gail the Snail had of them when they were kids.
Peter Griffin, take it away.
Froemming: The relationship makes zero sense. Barry is socially awkward, has a history of violent outbursts and sells designer plungers. He is not exactly a great package, but I guess love is weird.
Georgia is not happy about the credit cards being canceled, so she goes to her fixer, the man who hurts people and brings fear to men’s souls: Philip Seymour Hoffman.
OK, he does a pretty good job as an antagonist here, but he is such an out-of-left-field choice to go for a bad guy. But I don’t understand art, so I will just go with it.
PSH gets his hired goons to pay Barry a visit. They think Barry has all this money, because men are always honest when talking to sex workers. So they are going to tap this cash flow until it runs dry.
The good thing is Barry gets a date. Again, I do not understand this relationship, Barry comes off as such a strange, Forrest Gump-like oddball that it truly baffles me to see him get romantically involved.
They go to a restaurant and Lena talks about how his sister, the stupid Snail, told her about the old hammer-through-the-window gag, a hilarious story of childhood trauma. This causes Barry to go into the bathroom and beat the (REDACTED) out of a men’s room stall door.
This is such a hilarious movie!
Brown: Poor Barry.
I have stories from my life that are embarrassing, like how I accidently got a bunch of seagulls tangled into fishing line. Or, people love when I tell the story about how I got the scar on my lip from my brother accidently hitting me in the face with a baseball bat. I’m able to laugh at these stories now.
Barry, he does not. His family knows this. Hell, he just shattered a glass door after the hammer thing was brought up again. WHY DO YOU INSIST ON EVERYONE KNOWING THIS STORY, GAIL?! She deserves such a salting. I don’t know if they sell grades of salt but… … course.
After destroying the men’s room, this is the kind of treatment Barry (honestly, rightfully) gets.
And yet, Lena stays around because she honest-to-God can’t see the red flags surrounding her. At least he was a gentleman and opened the car door for her after, you know, getting kicked out of a restaurant.
Froemming: Barry takes her home and there is this scene where she calls down as he is leaving to say she wanted to kiss him. This is followed by Barry getting lost in her building, something I am not going to lie, I have had happen to me before.
Brown: I got a text once saying I should “come back over ;).”
I went back to sleep.
I’m not good at reading women, even when they’re being as subtle as a sledgehammer.
Froemming: And then, on his way home some hired goons attack Barry. They have him take money out of his account from an ATM and menace him. Which, is a pretty frightening thing to have happen. All because he called some 900 number. The internet has killed many things: journalism, cable TV, civil debate. But perhaps killing 900 numbers that send out hired goons was a good thing. At least for Barry.
Brown: This is the point in my notes where I wrote that “Punch-Drunk Love” becomes “The Big Lebowski” without the humor and charm. At this point, PSH’s hired goons should have asked Barry “Where’s the (REDACTED) money, (REDACTED)head?”
Through the power of making out with a woman, Barry eventually makes his way to Hawaii after a failed attempt to expedite his Healthy Choice miles scam.
When Barry gets to Hawaii, where Lena was headed before they met, Barry calls his sister Gail and verbally threatens her in public over a payphone like he’s Dennis Reynolds trying to Nurture Dependence.
Seriously, Lena, Barry is going to butcher you at some point if you ever bring up that hammer story.
Froemming: It is important to note here that while Barry sports the color blue, Lena sports red to symbolize warmth and inclusion. And if you are color blind, Paul Thomas Anderson has a message for you then with that:
Brown: That suit needs to be burned.
Between the Hawaiian sun beating down on Barry and the fact that he was wearing that suit when he was potentially masturbating with the phone-sex worker and the fact we never see him out of the suit to get it dry-cleaned, that suit is so full of bodily fluids, it must be like wearing a damp towel.
Froemming: The fluids are not even over yet, because when they return from Hawaii, the hired goons ram their van right into Barry and Lena in their car. And this is perhaps one of the most satisfying fight scenes in any movie, because Barry sees they have hurt his girlfriend and he just goes ape (REDACTED) on them with a tire iron.
Brown: It was a weird tonal shift to see Barry all of a sudden become Mike Haggar in “Final Fight.” But it was cool to see how much love had given this schlub some confidence.
Froemming: Well, he did get some training in on that bathroom door a while back.
But he brings Lena to the hospital, where he is now drunk with power, anger and hankering for some good old fashioned hubris to end this crap.
He calls PSH at his mattress shop in Utah, demanding this Georgia person knock it off with the extortion.
And I just love this scene too. PSH does a solid job here as a mattress salesman who moonlights as a handler for a phone-sex operation.
Yeah, this movie is pretty odd.
Brown: This is why this was the most maddening movie to watch during Sandler Month.
Sure, this movie doesn’t resonate with me as much as Froemming, but this is a good Adam Sandler performance. There’s nuance in the performance. The stuff he’s doing is annoyingly quirky but it works with what Paul Thomas Anderson wanted him to do.
Adam Sandler is capable of doing really solid work.
And this is what we got most of the time.
Because (REDACTED) doing good work when you can make a quarter billion dollars with shit.
Froemming: Like I said at the start of the review: This is why Adam Sandler is a real asshole.
So PSH just antagonizes Barry thinking that is that. He is a creepy pervert who deserved what he got calling those numbers, which was probably a million-dollar business in the 1990s.
Problem is, he poked the bear. Barry is already an unstable force of nature. He has a very bad violent streak in him. So when you provoke a man who just put a few of your hired goons in the hospital, because getting whacked in the face with a tire iron is probably going to need medical attention, you bet your ass he is going to travel all the way to Utah to kick the bejesus out of you.
And Barry does. Clutching the phone receiver he yanked out of the wall from the last conversation he had. I am not saying Barry is a good guy here, but I don’t disapprove of him threatening PSH here.
Now that I think of it, this is an arthouse version of “Falling Down.”
Brown: An arthouse movie. With advertising from Healthy Choice foods.
Froemming: I honestly wonder what the board of directors at Healthy Choice thought about this movie. You think they were nervous about any potential loopholes in future promotion pushes when this came out?
Brown: Did you ever get into any random ‘90s product contests? I don’t remember participating in it but I remember when Nintendo Power had a contest where you could win the spot as an extra in “The Mask II.” You know, the sequel that Jim Carrey absolutely made and wasn’t shoehorned in the 2000s as a Jamie Kennedy movie…
Froemming: Say, when are we going to do Jim Carrey Month?
Brown: How about we get into a proper mental state before we start talking theme months again?
Froemming: So Barry apologizes to Lena for leaving her at the hospital, because he had to threaten PSH with his pure rage and whatnot. And they kiss and the movie ends.
And Adam Sandler, that asshole, doesn’t make an award winning performance for another 17 years. He makes “Jack and Jill” and “Grown Ups” and all other piles of (REDACTED) that somehow made billions of dollars.
Adam Sandler is a real asshole, everyone.
Let’s yank phones out of the wall and storm down to recommendations.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Froemming: Yes. I enjoy this movie. I get why people don’t. It is not for everyone, but I love it.
Brown: No. It’s not a bad movie. It just didn’t do anything for me. Plus, Adam Sandler is an asshole. I don’t even know if I like “Happy Gilmore” anymore.