Phillip Seymour Hoffman is one of the greatest character actors today. Some may argue that he has one character, and just brings that incarnation to a bunch of movies. Of course I’ve heard that about Johnny Depp as well. I think there’s truth in the former assessment, as in not everyone is going to give a Lon Chaney or Daniel Day Lewis performance, but it’s also very unfair to degrade their performances by ignoring the originality character actors like Hoffman bring to the screen.
I just finished watching Punch Drunk Love, a film by present day auteur Paul Thomas Anderson , director/writer of Boogie Nights and There Will Be Blood. I’d watched this movie way back in 2002 when it first hit theaters. It was half because of an Adam Sandler kick I’d been on for years and my growing curiosity of Anderson since watching Magnolia. There was a genuine intrigue due to rumors of Sandler’s unusual role.
I love seeing actors outside their normal flicks, like when Jack Nicholson played the quiet and confused Warren Schimidt in (ironically about the year) 2002’s About Schimidt. Sandler played the highly withdrawn Barry Egen, a slightly manic-depressive, definitely lonely, business owner with 7 condescending sisters and a secret mission to collect hundreds of Healthy Choice pudding cups to redeem the free 500 flyer miles mistakenly offered by the distributer. Like most of Anderson’s films, there is a single element that plays very little to the story line, but carries its presence like a supporting character. Magnolia had the frogs, Boogie Nights had the dick, There Will be Blood had oil, Punch Drunk Love, a harmonium (a type of piano). Egan meets a girl named Lena in what he thinks is a fateful moment, but turns out to be a set up by one of his sisters to get him dating. After an innocent mistake of calling a phone sex hotline, we follow Egan through an odyssey of blackmail, rage, and a search for love.
Sandler creates the neurotic Egan with grace. Egan’s burst of violent anger is much more delicate compared to his comic roles with similar actions. However, my favorite character is the minor role of Dean Trumbell played by Hoffman, a devious Utah mattress shop owner, which also fronts for his phone sex hotline. Hoffman’s character sends his goons after Sandler to force their blackmail scheme. A confrontation between Egen and Trumbell cause Hoffman to scream and erratic, "SHUT UP, SHUT UP! SHUT-SHUT-SHUT-SHUT UP," line, as he chokes through anger in reaction to Egen’s persistence.
Here you have Hoffman playing a character of huge contrast to Sandler: A man incredibly violent and angry opposed to Egen’s soft spoken and withdrawn character, who’s not quite sure how to handle his rage.
If you haven’t seen the flick, pick it up. If you’re only used to Sandler’s Happy Gilmore, you’ll be surprised to see a very different portrayal by the comedy favorite. For film buffs, you’ve probably already seen this, but if you haven’t its a must for the collection! Those looking for a rental, this is NOT formulaic, so you may be confused by the odd story pattern, however I really doubt you’ll bored.