Associated Press, Written By Jocelyn Noveck
May 19th, 2002
CANNES, France - It all started with pudding.
Paul Thomas Anderson, the talented young director of "Boogie Nights" and "Magnolia," read an article about a guy who bought a lot of pudding to take advantage of a frequent-flyer promotion.
Then he got Adam Sandler to be in his movie.
Thus was born "Punch-Drunk Love," starring Sandler and Emily Watson, a film that's described as a romantic comedy but has lots more edge than most romantic comedies.
The film, one of the most highly anticipated at Cannes this year, should play well with Anderson fans. But it may be less successful with European audiences, who liked "Magnolia" but have little knowledge or appreciation of Sandler and his comedy.
The film is a departure for director and stars alike.
After the long and weighty "Magnolia," Anderson wanted to make a lighter film — and a shorter one as well. "Punch-Drunk Love" clocks in at 90 minutes. "I wanted to save everybody a little bit of time in their day," the director says.
As for Sandler, he's best known for his comic turns on "Saturday Night Live" and for movies like "Big Daddy" and "The Wedding Singer" — not hip, offbeat films like Anderson's. And Watson, the star of "Breaking the Waves" and "Angela's Ashes," usually inhabits much more serious fare.
Anderson says he chose Sandler because "I love him. I absolutely think he's the greatest. I fell in love with him when I saw Saturday Night Live."
Watson says she had lunch with Anderson and told him: "I don't want to cry or die anymore." He said fine.
The idea came from an article in Time magazine. David Phillips, a civil engineer in California, had figured out how to accumulate 1.25 million frequent-flyer miles by buying 12,150 cups of Healthy Choice pudding for dlrs 3,000.
Anderson met with Phillips and bought his story. It was the launching point for Sandler's character, Barry Egan, who runs a business out of a warehouse and is hounded by seven pushy sisters, whose abuse has left him unable to fall in love.
One night, he uses a phone sex service, just to talk to someone. The sleazy operators of the service then try to blackmail him, chasing him down at work and home to demand money, then sending a bunch of lowlifes to rough him up.
At the same time, Barry is falling for a mysterious woman, Lena (Watson). The budding relationship will force him to master some of his darker impulses — like bashing down the glass doors at his sister's house or smashing up a restaurant bathroom while on a date.
When Lena goes to Hawaii on a business trip, Barry follows. There, the two fall in love — "punch-drunk" love. But trouble awaits back home in California, where the lowlifes are back, smashing into Barry's car and injuring Lena.
In a sign that love has given him strength, the normally timid Barry fights back with a crowbar. Then he goes all the way to Utah to track down the phone sex operator, an easily excitable sort played by Anderson regular Philip Seymour Hoffman. The scene in which Barry asserts himself, getting his pursuer to back off, is among the most affecting in the movie.
Running through the film is the pudding scheme; it is part of Egan's plan to win Lena and keep her.
Sandler is well aware that few expected him to surface in a serious film, even one that's termed a romantic comedy. He joked about it at a news conference on Sunday, when a journalist asked a long and convoluted question in French that no one understood.
"It's the why-Adam Sandler question again," Sandler offered.