As usual, there was a short before the feature, but this one was a bit different – the first deliberate music video (with the possible exception of Captain EO…which wasn’t really a music video per se). What was it? Tool’s Parabola, directed by the band’s guitarist Adam Jones.
It’s a pretty cool video, with lots of claymation and neat imagery and stuff. Wow, that was eloquent. But you know, it’s not like it has much of a plot, really. As Terry Jones said at the very end of Monty Python’s The Final Ripoff (disc 2): “Well, that’s about it, really. The film ends…mainly visually.”
And of course, following the video we had a feature-length presentation. In this case, it was Punch-Drunk Love, the Paul Thomas Anderson-directed Adam Sandler love story vehicle. If you think it doesn’t sound like a particularly likely film, you’re right. And it doesn’t act like a normal love story – or at times even like a normal movie.
We start by seeing Adam Sandler (and while his character has a name, you never really forget that it’s Adam Sandler – a fault the movie carries along for all its recognizable actors) at a lonely desk, making very inefficient use of office space in his warehouse. Where they appear to manufacture plungers. It’s a small warehouse, and it’s located in a side alley next to a mechanic’s, and Sandler’s got his very own office, so it’s really unclear what the lonely desk is for, aside from being a place where Sandler can call up various marketing agencies and ask if the too-good-to-be-true airline miles promotion really is true. He’s a weird guy, and, as we find out, prone to violent outbursts. Anger control issues.
Anyway, he has a pretty weird morning to start the film. First, there’s a massive, single car rollover accident in the road outside the warehouse (which mysteriously seems to disappear just after it has happened) and immediately thereafter, somebody abandons a harmonium in the street.
Sandler takes the harmonium, the appearance of which is never explained. Maybe it’s symbolic. But it’s symbols like these that lead me to believe that symbolism is pretty retarded. Anyhow, a very nervous Emily Watson then shows up to drop off her car an hour before the mechanic’s actually opens.
Here is where the movie sets you up to think, “ah, an initial chance meeting that will somehow allow our characters to come together!” Well, that’s where the movie fools you, because as a matter of fact, Emily Watson is STALKING Adam Sandler. With the help of Sandler’s sister, Chloe from “24”. Because she saw a photograph of him.
Know that despite this, Emily Watson is in fact the most well-adjusted character in the film.
As Sandler doesn’t realize yet that the woman of his dreams is having her car repaired just to meet him, he goes home and randomly seeing the number for a phone sex line in the newspaper, decides to call. Just to talk. It’s unclear whether he even recognizes exactly what the purpose of the line is or not.
This turns out to be a problem, because the phone sex operator calls him back to shake him down for a bribe the next morning. When he refuses, he incurs the wrath of the entire dirty phone sex operation, which is based out of Utah and while trying to steal his money accuses Sandler without a hint of irony of being a sexual pervert for calling in the first place. Some people might find this funny and insightful and gripping religious commentary, but I found it to be the ham-handed social equivalent of the cop-doughnut joke. (For some reason, I also found P.T.A.’s “There Will Be Blood” particularly uncompelling as well. Hmmph.)
Regardless, while Sandler is being shaken down, Emily Watson returns to get her car (with Chloe in tow) and boldly asks Sandler to go on a date with her, despite the fact that he’s a terrible introvert and seems to have no socially redeeming qualities.
The date goes really, really well considering the fact that Sandler overreacts after Watson asks him about a trivial detail from his past, goes and destroys the restroom, and gets them thrown out of the restaurant. She likes him, for no particularly good reason. But she’s headed off on a business trip to Hawaii. Enter the Airline Miles promotion from the opening scene.
You see, the pudding is only 79 cents for four cups, and each cup has its own promotional code on it, so Sandler has been buying them up to take advantage of the fact that the pudding actually costs far less than the value of the airline miles that can be pudding-redeemed via the promotion. Now, Sandler doesn’t actually ever travel, but now that his golden opportunity has arrived he plans to cash in the pudding to return the stalking favor and follow Watson to Hawaii.
Except for the fact that it takes 6-8 weeks for processing, and he needs the ticket today. So he just buys a ticket to Hawaii without the miles and completely wastes subplot number 2. After successfully hooking up with Watson in Hawaii (and subsequently successfully hooking up with Watson in the hotel room) they head back to the L.A. area as lovers, planning to move in together.
Problem is, the phone sex people sent a truck full of goons from Utah to L.A. to try to collect a few hundred bucks from Sandler. Umm, because that’s like really cost-effective and stuff. Needless to say, the goons smash Sandler’s car (with Watson minorly injured) and Sandler uses his power of HULK SMASH to beat the bejeezus out of them. Then, he impulsively abandons Watson at the hospital in order to go to Utah and hunt down the phone sex bribemaster.
Philip Seymour Hoffman. But instead of using his power of HULK SMASH, Sandler successfully reasons with Hoffman…by threatening to use his power of HULK SMASH.
Watson is understandably upset that Sandler abandoned her at the hospital and didn’t even wait for his pudding miles to come in to go to Utah, but she immediately takes him back anyway, and the movie ends happily ever after.
Or maybe it’s happily ever until five minutes from now when Sandler falls into another violent frothy rage or Watson figures out just how useless he really is and leaves him to his mysterious harmonium and his lifetime supply of pudding. We can only hope. But the movie doesn’t show us that part.
To sum up: this film basically violates just about every tenet of movie making. Catastrophic things happen and then apparently unhappen. Major symbols are introduced for no apparent reason. Subplots are wasted and dropped after 20-30 minutes of screen time. The love interests have no compelling reason to like each other, or even tolerate each other. The villain, such as there is one, has bizarre motivations and would at any rate last about 2 days at their scam before having a squadron of black-and-whites show up at their door. And the music (thanks to Jon Brion) is uniformly cacophonous and unnerving. For the whole film. I guess for some people, the violation of all expectations results in art. For me, not so much. I mean, I can recognize that it was done on purpose (as opposed to being unintentionally bad in all aspects), but that still doesn’t endear the film to me. Let’s just say that after this, “Magnolia”, and “There Will Be Blood”, I’m unlikely to be lining up for the anticipated 2011 P.T. Anderson release.
I mean, I don’t want to be that way, because there are a bunch of people who simply love Paul Thomas Anderson. Then again, there are a bunch of people who insist that “The Empire Strikes Back” is a far superior film to “Star Wars”. I don’t get it. Quick – what was the plot to “Star Wars”? (Answer: Angsty teen Luke Skywalker wants adventure, gets caught up on the righteous side of a rebellion, learns to use a mysterious “Force”, rescues a princess, and blows up the badass enemy base thereby getting his fill of adventure.) Quick – what was the plot to “The Empire Strikes Back”? (Answer: Well, they were on this ice planet Hoth for some reason and Luke cut open a Ton-Ton to sleep in its guts, then they got attacked by AT-AT walkers, then they flew into the stomach of a giant worm-beast on an asteroid but got out, then they dropped Luke off on yet another planet to learn yet MORE about the Force from a muppet while the rest of the crew head off to Cloud City for some ambiguous reason. Then Luke catches up with them in Cloud City only to find out that Darth Vader is his father, get his hand chopped off, and fall down an exhaust vent to be caught by his own ship that had no way of knowing he’d be falling there.) OK, so which was the better movie? “The Empire Strikes Back”, right? I don’t get it. And I don’t get P.T. Anderson.