Adam Sandler did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for a Golden Globe, for portraying Barry Egan in Punch-Drunk Love.
Punch-Drunk Love is an off beat and enjoyable romantic comedy about a rather troubled novelty retailer who tries to deal with several things including his seven domineering sisters, his attempt to purchase pudding for frequent flyer miles, a devious phone-sex extortion scheme, while possibly finding romance.
I was originally going to review Edward Norton for his much praised performance in the 25th Hour. I changed my mind after watching that film as I thought although Norton's work was solid it wasn't especially remarkable. He also falls victim Spike Lee's direction which randomly would have spurts of his ham-fisted style which were especially jarring when he seemed to be a different direction for most of that film. This would not be that much of a problem but Norton tends to be the focus in the scenes that do this. Instead I will look at the performance I think is considerably more interesting and unique as it is Adam Sandler giving a performance in a film made by P.T. Anderson.
Although this is a change from his often extremely stupid comedies, which through the years seem to be getting purposefully awful, this actually is not Sandler being cast against type in any way. In his earliest comedies, which were no masterpieces but at least did not seem made to test audiences ability to withstand visual and audio torture, Sandler usually plays characters who were nice guys who would talk calmly put would have sporadic moments of intense anger. In those films the scenes where just there for laughs and had no real purpose, but in this film that is the foundation for Sandler's portrayal of the character of Barry Egan which bothers to actually delve into the character's mental state.
Sandler actually gives a Adam Sandler performance here but reigned in to create an actual character, and used properly by Anderson. On the outside Sandler plays the off beat somewhat quiet Barry quite effectively. Sandler forgets having any anger on the outside and when Barry is just going along with things he is as pleasant as can be. Sandler handles this incredibly well playing the role with a certain charm, and having the right sort of awkwardness that alludes to the nature of Barry as a person. The awkwardness is rather dominant most of the time, but Sandler uses it in a way to show it as a defense mechanism of sorts that Barry uses to try to hide his more extreme emotions.
This is not to say that Barry is putting on a facade, but Sandler is very good in showing the rage inducing scenes how he seems to become more and more aloof when his anger builds up.When he does explode Sandler again plays it in the right way as an extreme precise action. The reason for this works properly because Barry always returns to his usual after the quick show of violent rage so it would only really be momentary and seem almost random in the way he does it. Sandler's portrayal of the man with some very severe anger issues is very remarkable because he suggests how it comes from the repressed life of the man, but as well the spontaneous nature of it.
This is not your usual character study though in that this strange character is put into a romantic comedy plot technically speaking. The film isn't really to solve his problems at least not in the way one would expect, in fact he eventually uses his anger to solve one of his problems. It is a very odd twist to the formula but one that pays off for the film as Sandler makes for an interesting protagonist to watch as he makes his way through the "formula". Sandler's performance is a compelling one to watch as Barry maneuvers all of his problems while falling in love with the also somewhat off herself Lena (Emily Watson).
Barry during the film doesn't exactly lose his anger, nor does he lose his awkwardness, but there is change in Barry which is particularly well handled by Sandler. What Barry does is not lose what he has but instead takes charge of what he has and uses for himself. Barry doesn't change himself but instead comes to self realization. This might not be the usual transition, but Sandler is absolutely winning in his portrayal of Barry pretty much taking hold of himself. What Sandler shows that Barry loses actually is that withdrawn quality found at the beginning, and the anger now comes when he wants it to rather than the almost primal manner it came out before.
This is a very interesting case for Sandler because this is not in any way against type for him. Barry Egan is actually firmly in his type but the character is from a far better written film, and far better directed film than Sandler usually finds himself in. What Sandler does along with Anderson is find what there was in his earlier performances that could be adjusted to actually create something special from. Sandler in this performance uses his talents not in the creation of juvenile character whose main goal seems to be for the lowest common denominator as he did before this film, and unfortunately continues to do, but instead takes what he has refining it into an actual character who we can honestly become invested in and actually be intrigued by his personal journey throughout the film.