Anger Management, Eternal Life, and Gun Possession
Even critics are having trouble keeping track of the current new release onrush. Religious press critics weigh in this week with a heap of reviews on the most prominent titles. Here is a run-down of no less than 16 titles currently on the marquee.
You may find it romantic, innovative, and fascinating. You might be downright annoyed. But judging from critical and audience response, chances are you will not forget Punch-Drunk Love, the new film from Paul Thomas Anderson. The 32-year-old director already has three acclaimed films to his name—Magnolia, Boogie Nights, and Hard Eight. At only 89 minutes, this is his first "small" movie.
It stars Saturday Night Live alum Adam Sandler and Oscar-nominee Emily Watson (Breaking the Waves, Gosford Park, Red Dragon.) Their performances and Anderson's unique style are earning the film euphoric raves, shrugs, and accusations of pretension and "randomness." But almost everyone agrees—Sandler, the goofy wisecracker of The Wedding Singer and Happy Gilmore, is surprisingly good.
A few, like Gerri Pare (Catholic News), disagree. Pare calls it "one of the least-engaging romances in years. Many … are likely to find Sandler and the entire film not, as intended, goofy-charming, but downright annoying. The sudden spurts of violence … [are] entirely out of keeping with what should have been a light, entertainingly quirky comedy."
Pare and other critics who explain how the film could have succeeded as a "light, quirky comedy" are, in my opinion, misunderstanding Anderson's intentions. This film is whimsical in places, romantic in others. Nevertheless, at the center of this strange, unpredictable story is a thoughtful exploration of repressed anger, and its various healthy and unhealthy manifestations.
Here's the set-up: Barry Egan (Sandler) is a toilet plunger salesman whose emotional pipes are clogged with insecurity, fear, and anger. Seven contentious sisters have made his life nerve-wracking, to say the least. He's prone to explosive eruptions of rage. He's also inclined to reach in the wrong direction for companionship. One night, in loneliness and despair, he makes a foolish call to a phone-sex "service," only to set in motion events that will endanger his sanity and his life. (A caution to viewers: Barry's anger leads him to some profanity-laced outbursts. And the phone-sex operator is typically perverse on the phone.) It's clear that Barry's breaking down.
But three things just might change the course of his life. The first is the mysterious arrival of a musical instrument on his doorstep. The second is a limited-time offer from Healthy Choice pudding and American Airlines. (I'm not going to ruin surprises by explaining that one.) The third is the arrival of a woman named Lena (Watson). Encouraged by Lena's unconditional love and patience, Barry finds the strength to get a handle on his anger and grow into an individual with strong convictions and powerful self-control.
While most movies about angry young men lead the viewer to a violent showdown, Punch-Drunk Love offers something more poetic, profound, and rewarding. Of this year's big screen parables, this is the one that has surprised and delighted me the most. My full review is at Looking Closer.
Michael Leary (Relevant Magazine) found the film to be "an emotional and visual jigsaw puzzle connected only slightly by Anderson's pleasantly disorienting camera work and Jon Brion's intelligent and original musical score. In this fairy tale, the hero doesn't really teach us anything other than showing us how it is possible to stumble 'Punch-Drunk' through life … "