Variety, Written By Jodie Diderich
May 19th, 2002
CANNES, France - Adam Sandler, the accident-prone comic hero of simplistic U.S. hits like "Big Daddy" and "The Waterboy," gate-crashed the rarefied world of art house film Sunday.
Sandler performs a 180-degree turn in "Punch-Drunk Love," a romantic comedy with a twist directed by cult independent director Paul Thomas Anderson.
The New York-born Sandler is emotionally wrenching as Barry Egan, a small business owner brow-beaten by his seven sisters and unable to fall in love until he meets Lena, a mysterious woman played by Emily Watson.
It was also a complete change of direction for Anderson, whose last movie was the three-hour lyrical opus "Magnolia" with Tom Cruise.
The much shorter "Punch-Drunk Love" is competing for the coveted Palme d'Or at the world's biggest film festival, where Anderson said he was thrilled to surprise audiences with his unlikely choice for the lead role.
"I love him. I absolutely think he's the greatest," said the director, who spotted Sandler on the cult U.S. comedy show "Saturday Night Live" in the early 1990s.
"He really just made me laugh, and he walks very funny and his head is kind of funny, and his ear is a little bit funny. I haven't seen him naked but that might be funny," he said.
Sandler interjected: "Actually, just to be honest with you, naked is not so bad."
The movie also gives Watson a chance to break free from the tragic characters she has played in films like "Breaking the Waves" and "Hilary and Jackie."
"I said I didn't want to cry and I didn't want to die," she said. "It's very delicious being in a romantic film."
Although the message of "Punch-Drunk Love" is ultimately redeeming, it is a dark film that explores lonely characters adrift in a world of strip malls and soulless apartments.
Egan is a monument of barely-suppressed rage, exploding in destructive fits at unexpected moments.
"I think he's a bit confused, he's a bit angry, and a lot of it has to do with how he grew up," said Anderson. "It's about that feeling when you can't say something, and you just start to throw punches."
Also in weekend competition was "Demonlover" by French director Olivier Assayas, a complex thriller about a corporate battle to distribute Japanese pornographic comics via the Internet.
"I wanted to touch on the complexity with which images interact with our world today," Assayas told Reuters in an interview.
"Within a very short period of time, we will be able to recreate in animation form characters who will have a very striking resemblance with humans," he said.
The dense plot failed to win over critics, who booed the film at its screening.
Among the prime contenders for the top prize is British director Mike Leigh, who doffed his cap to Cannes, thanking the festival for resisting domination by Hollywood.
Leigh, whose gritty drama "All Or Nothing" won critical acclaim, said of Cannes: "It is beyond the reach of Hollywood. No matter what they do, they can't get at it. It's beyond their grip."