Blog-A-Thon: Tears Of A Clown – Adam Sandler in Punch Drunk Love


Wendell over at Dell on Movies has come up with a fascinating Blog-a-thon, Tears of A Clown. The premise involves uncovering great dramatic performances by those who make their living making us laugh. The rules are simple:

Create a post about a comedic actor in a non-comedic role. Tell us what are your favorite comedic roles of this performer. More importantly, tell us why you like the dramatic role in question. Be as thorough as you feel you need to be. Convince us it’s a great performance.

Wendell requires a backlink to his original post, so if you’re keen to read more articles on this theme, you can visit his site here.

My choice is one I would perhaps never have considered prior to this Blog-a-thon, mainly due to my well-known hatred of the man as an comedian, but I’ve come to the conclusion that Punch Drunk Love features one of the greatest dramatic performances by an actor, of any kind, in recent memory.

clipboar334699Regardless of what you may think of Adam Sandler as a comic, his work in Punch Drunk Love, a film by acclaimed director Paul Thomas Anderson, is simply spectacular. The film revolves around Barry Egan (Sandler), a lonely business owner whose family is filled with obnoxious women, and who often finds himself unable to talk to people due to extreme shyness and fear of confrontation. After witnessing a car accident, Barry meets Lena Leonard (Emily Watson), a woman who is equally shy but to whom he becomes drawn due to their mutual inwardness. The film is a story of love conquering in the most impossible places, and is at its heart a love song to end all love songs.

Let it never be said that I didn’t give Adam Sandler a chance. His work here, as the painfully shy Barry, is remarkable, although I admit in years since he’s used this kind of subtle, quiet conceit to great effect in films like Spanglish, Reign Over Me, The Cobbler and (to a lesser degree) Funny People. Punch Drunk Love’s auteur tone, style and themes don’t lend themselves to a “towering” comedic performance as we’ve come to expect from one of the giants of the genre in Sandler, but as a dramatic piece, with his bursts of rage checkering the passive restraint the character demands make for compelling, lovely, wonderful viewing.punch-drunk-love2

Sandler isn’t alone; the ensemble in Punch Drunk Love is beautifully manifested. Emily Watson has terrific chemistry with Sandler as her on-screen romantic interest, while smaller roles to Philip Seymour Hoffman and Luis Guzman allow the quiet story to marinate beautifully. Having said that, this really is Sandler’s film, almost outshining Anderson’s direction of it with a magnetic, often hypnotic portrayal of a man who is struggling internally to overcome his own fear.

Folks might sigh at the very mention of Sandler’s name (I’m one of them!) but if he’s remembered for a single dramatic work, it should be this one. Spanglish requires more concentrated emotional acting, but Punch Drunk Love is far and away his most approachable. He wasn’t nominated for an Oscar for his work here, but – and I know I’m going to regret saying this in a public forum – I honestly think he deserved to.

While names like Robin Williams and Jim Carrey will no doubt be bandied about in this Blog-a-thon, for their “serious” roles (particularly Williams), I have no hesitation in recommending Punch Drunk Love to anyone solely on the back of Sandler’s performance in it.

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    • No worries mate, glad I could put my 2c in! I had to think about it a bit because I didn't want to pick something most people might have expected. 😉

  1. Hey Rodney, great new look on your site man! I've been curious about this movie to see Sandler in a serious role. He's rather annoying in his comedic stuff but under a director like PTA I could see him being watchable. Plus I LOVE Emily Watson!

    • Well, you know how much I loathe Sandler generally, so for me to rave about him in the film should speak volumes. Enjoy it when you see it.

  2. Good choice. I liked this film but didn't love it however Sandler's performance is very good. It's a shame he didn't follow up on it, this came in the middle of his brief but most fruitful period. I've liked him more than it sounds as if you do and while I wouldn't say I'm a former fan his work has devolved since this and my favorite of his comedies, The Wedding Singer. Had he pursued more top flight projects with better/stronger directors around the time of PDL he might have a more respected career. I think the talent is there but he requires a strong hand, which has been sorely lacking, to guide it. Another strength of PDL is the presence of Emily Watson, a very fine actress and a stronger performer than you usually find in his vehicles, she seems to have helped him up his game.

    • I think you're correct in saying that had he taken projects with better creative foundations, Sandler might have had a more appreciated career to date. But I doubt the dude knows what honest creativity is these days, he so busy believing his own shit like Grown Ups 2 and that one where he played his own sister. Ugh.

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Never blessed with a body worthy of a porn star, nor being the heir to a wealthy industrialists fortune, nor suffering the tragedy of having his parents murdered outside a Gotham theater, Rodney is, contrary to popular opinion, neither Ron Jeremy, JD Rockefeller, or Batman. As a serious appreciator of film since 1996, Rodney's love affair with the medium has continued with his online blog, Fernby Films, a facility allowing him to communicate with fellow cineasts in their mutual love of all things movie.

Blog-A-Thon: Tears Of A Clown – Adam Sandler in Punch Drunk Love

by Rodney Twelftree
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