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Festival News
Praise-Drunk Love
Adam Sandler, the comedian critics just love to hate, stands to become their newest darling with his latest film, Paul Thomas Anderson's Punch-Drunk Love

September 13, 2002

Emily Watson and Adam Sandler
Emily Watson with Adam Sandler in a scene from Punch-Drunk Love
"Adam Sandler" and "critically acclaimed" aren't words that usually wind up in the same sentence. The 36-year-old gross-out king has made a name for himself as the box office hero of lowbrow comedy. So his pairing with the acclaimed P. T. Anderson is bound to raise eyebrows.

Yes, that's Paul Thomas Anderson, writer and director of Boogie Nights and Magnolia. The two paired up for Punch-Drunk Love, which has its North American premiere Friday at the Toronto International Film Festival. The film focuses on Sandler's character, a raged-filled toilet plunger salesman who overcomes his demons by falling in love.

Three-star rating

Punch-Drunk Love
Paul Thomas Anderson (U.S.)

Who but Paul Thomas Anderson (Magnolia, Boogie Nights) would be strange or creative enough to try to prove the artistic genius of Adam Sandler? Reminiscent of Martin Scorsese's King of Comedy without the ironic quotation marks, Punch-Drunk Love is like a strange fable. It's the story of a misfit salesman, ingenious but unsuccessful, loaded with anger, mocked and belittled by his insufferable sisters. Then he falls in love with Lena (Emily Watson) and, in a development worthy of a typical Sandler movie, finds the power to defeat his evil enemies. The mixture of sentimentality and rage and abrupt narrative turns keeps the audience constantly guessing, even to the point of wondering if the events might actually take place in the head of a disturbed sales clerk stuck in a corner of an empty warehouse. - L.L.
(Fri. Sept. 13, 11 p.m., Uptown 1; Sat. Sept. 14, 2:15 p.m, Elgin)

For his part, Sandler is reluctant to call the role a departure from his previous works, which include movies like Billy Madison and this summer's Mr. Deeds. "I think departure means moving on from something," Sandler told a press conference at Toronto's Four Seasons Hotel Thursday.

"In no way do I want to say I'm giving up making a certain kind of movie. I loved making movies I've made in the past but this experience was incredible and I want to continue to challenge myself."

Watching the movie, it doesn't really feel like a departure either. From the movie's opening scene, where Sandler's character argues over the phone with a customer sales rep at a pudding company (a moment that recalls prank phone call tracks on Sandler's comedy CDs), to the part where he "beats up a bathroom," Sandler's character feels like a darker, more tormented version of someone you've met before -- in The Wedding Singer or Happy Gilmour perhaps.

In fact, the former-stand up comedian and Saturday Night Live alum is actually pretty hesitant to label the movie as being that different from his earlier roles, which have been celebrated on college campuses across North America.

"I did a movie with a guy who I think is an incredible filmmaker, and I play a role that he wrote for me that I thought was a great part, and I thought would be a challenge for me to do," Sandler says. As always, he says, taking the role was about making a movie that isn't just like every movie that's currently playing at every multiplex across America.

Sandler remembers watching Magnoliaa couple of days after Anderson approached him about the part. "I was just staring at the screen the whole time going: 'Oh boy, this guy's incredible and this is a movie I've never seen before in my life.'"

He says he felt the same way after reading the script for Punch-Drunk Love. "I remember reading the script and feeling probably the way that you felt watching: "Wondering, where is this going, is this guy going to be all right. It just became about the movie. It wasn't about (Anderson) or about my fans. It was just about making an interesting movie and hopefully people are going to end up seeing it."

Sandler, who calls the making of Punch-Drunk Love "as close to just a jam session that I've ever felt in making a movie," says working with critics' darling Anderson felt completely natural.

"The only time that it would be odd that we were doing a movie together would be when someone would say to me, 'What are you doing now?' and I'd say, 'A Paul Thomas Anderson movie.'" He says his response was inevitably met with a double take -- "'You are?'"

But he admits the experience was sometimes intimidating. "I would always get nervous to say lines for (Anderson) over the phone because I was afraid I'd hear: 'What? That's the exact opposite of what I want.'"

He needn't have worried. Anderson, who wrote the part of tormented Barry Egan with Sandler in mind, says working with the actor was "a dream come true."

"I just think he's wonderful. I think he's just a hell of an actor. I've always loved his movies, I've always loved seeing him in movies," Anderson told the press conference. "You think: Who do you want to be around, who do you want to work with, but really, who do you want to be near? And I always wanted to be near him."

Certainly, with Sandler leading the cast, Punch-Drunk Love stands to rake in more at the box office than Anderson's previous works. While movies like Boogie Nights and Magnolia were heaped with critical accolades and awards, the acclaim only translated into mild success among mainstream moviegoers. Both hovered around the $25 million mark in ticket sales at U.S. theatres. In contrast, Mr. Deeds earned nearly $125 million. Anderson says he's not too concerned either way.

"I try not to think about that stuff because if you do, you run the danger of your head going up your own ass."

Sandler also stands to make gains of his own -- a leap in status in the eyes of the critics. "I've read stuff, that people have said nice stuff about the movie, and it's a new thing and I'm glad my father can read stuff about me and go, 'Hey, alright!'" Sandler says.

"When I made Billy Madison, I remember I was shooting that movie thinking, oh, it's going to be fun when it comes out, they actually write stuff about you, my parents will read it. This is incredible."

The movie, however, was panned. Sandler says those first reviews were hard to take. "I woke up that morning and I was like, man, I didn't know they were going to come after me and hate me and hate what I was doing. It kind of shook me up."

But he says he doesn't look to critics for approval anymore. "I've been hit a bunch of times and I'm alright with that. I go with my heart and I've always been clear that I work hard at trying to make funny movies and I believe in my movies. I know critically, a lot of critics object to what I do."

Fans who prefer Sandler's typical brand of humour will be glad to know he's got yet another movie working its way through production. The film, which is based on Sandler's Chanukah Song, is scheduled to be released in time for the December blockbuster season.

"They're totally different movies," Sandler says, comparing the two projects. "That movie is called 8 Crazy Nights -- it's an animated movie and it's fun and it's musical and there are a lot of jokes."

"But it's not Punch-Drunk Love. It's a whole other thing."

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