DIRECTED BY Paul Thomas Anderson
STARRING Adam Sandler, Emily Watson, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Opens February 7, Cert 15, 91 mins
"I don't like myself sometimes—can you help me?" No, this isn't what Sandler said to Anderson to land the role (nice thought, though). It's one of many self-lacerating lines he delivers in what might be the darkest mainstream romantic comedy ever made. After the rigours of Magnolia, Anderson wanted to try something breezier, and is, he admits, a non-ironic Sandler fan. But—thank Christ—this isn't typical gurning Sandler fare. It's a twisted, wilfully weird creation full of tripped-out colours, random surrealism, odd sounds, breathtaking LA photography, and a central 'romance' which peaks with the sweet nothing: "I'm looking at your face and I just wanna smash it with a sledgehammer, it's so pretty." It'll frustrate and exhilarate.
Barry (Sandler) is an anal, nerdy toilet-plunger salesman who finds a harmonium and is ridiculed by his seven sisters. (This is the kind of logic you'll get used to). Just as he meets Lena (Watson), who inexplicably likes him, he gets embroiled in a blackmail situation with a con-woman who's stalking him through a phone-sex line (which Barry, in a scene of excruciating comic embarrassment echoing Boogie Nights, has called). A grisly hard-knock (Hoffman, against type) is behind the con-woman: Barry, prone to fits of rage, has to confront them while not messing up his putative romance with Lena. He's collected enough free air miles (by buying thousands of puddings) to pursue his foes, and his beloved, cross-country.
Sandler-phobes be warned: there is some slapstick, and though he's admirably understated in the early stages, he lets rip with the annoying mannerisms later. Yet, thanks often to Watson's blissed-out adaptability, it works. Anderson goes berserk with the narrative: between key scenes, characters get lost in hotel corridors, or stuck on the phone. Calling to declare his love, Barry first dials a wrong number, for no good reason other than that it clearly amuses the writer-director. God, he's perverse.
His warped aesthetics, however, make even his slightest work visually vivid, and this representation (rather than study) of a dysfunctional nutjob is more tough than tender. It'll leave you reeling.
Rating: 4 / 10