Love Is Strange — So Is He

  • Why does Barry Egan (Adam Sandler) have several dozen boxes of pudding piled up in his office? That's easy: each carries a coupon worth 500 frequent-flyer miles. Even though Barry never goes anywhere, he can't resist the bargain.

    Why does Barry every now and then destroy a bathroom or a glass patio door? Dunno. Won't even speculate. Probably just one of those inexplicably surreal accidents that writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson likes. Remember the frog shower in Magnolia?

    And, finally, what in the name of all that's unholy does Lena Leonard (Emily Watson) see in this creepy, inarticulate character? She is stalking him almost from the beginning of the movie, a knowing little smile on her face, as if she knows what we cannot imagine: that Punch-Drunk Love is bound for the glory of a happy (or at least romantically promising) ending.

    Whether that conclusion — or, for that matter, any conclusion — will satisfy Adam Sandler's fans is an open question. He plays dumb as well as anyone in the history of the movies, with the possible exception of Stan Laurel. And he does it here with a stoned shamelessness, an absolute refusal of self-comprehension that is near awesome. Laurel had a kind of sweetness and innocence that enlisted our sympathy. Sandler's stupidity is relentless, merciless, distinctly off-putting.

    That means he is a perfect citizen of what we might call Andersonville, that cheerless Southern California tract of warehouses, alleys and unwelcoming apartments whose prisoners suffer the blind assaults of grim fate without a murmur, without even the consolations of, say, existentialism to lighten their burden. This movie is the writer-director's most airless exploration of this postmodernist's Yoknapatawpha County, an antimovie that rejects even the most minimal obligations to character and plot that commercial films are supposed to respect. Stuff happens to Anderson's people. They just keep soldiering on.

    Yet there is something arresting about it too. The damned thing keeps gnawing at your mind — if only for its almost perfect lack of conventional sentiment. Or movieness. Take a tough pill — and maybe wear your lead shoes — and check it out. It's one of the oddest American "comedies" in recent memory.