How “Punch-Drunk Love” Uses Sad Adam Sandler to Talk About Mental Health
By Noah Dauncey
Can a movie that deals with topics such as anxiety and loneliness be a comedy? Can you make a scene where someone cries be hilarious? Is Adam Sandler a good actor? Director Paul Thomas Anderson dares to ask these questions in his 2002 romance comedy “Punch-Drunk Love,” a story of love, bravery, and defeating a menacing mattress salesman.
Adam Sandler plays Barry, a plunger salesman. He has his own business and it’s going okay, but he’d like to diversify. How does the film relay this information? Barry tells us. Well, actually, he tells a woman over a sex chat line. He tells her a lot about his life, including that he gets lonely. The film portrays Barry as a lonely man who doesn’t know exactly what to do (again, this is a comedy, I swear).
The film plucks Barry from his daily routine of selling plungers and being bullied by his seven sisters when he decides to take advantage of a deal involving airline flyer miles and pudding. He begins buying mass amounts of pudding, stacking cup upon cup in his office.
Remember how I said Barry told the sex line worker a lot about his life? Well one of those things was his social security number and now he has people after his money. Furthermore, Barry has met a woman, and he finds himself jumping through hoops trying to balance the beginnings of a relationship without letting her know that as they speak, four blond brothers are on their way to beat him up.
Now, ready for the kicker? The film has Barry deal with all these issues at the same time! Aided by an anxiety-inducing soundtrack by Jon Brion, Barry is like a shark, constantly on the move to stay alive and deal with all his issues.
Barry is struggling. His anxiety and loneliness are very apparent in the way he interacts with the world around him. However, Barry is still trying, and manages to make one smart choice: to ask for help.
During one scene, Barry musters up the strength to tell someone how he feels, explaining, “I don’t know if there’s anything wrong with me because I don’t know how other people are….. Sometimes I cry a lot….. for no reason.”  Barry is in a rough place, and asking for help is the bravest thing he could have done.
If you are like Barry and you need someone to talk to, the campus has therapists ready to talk to you, free for all students. They can be contacted at (509) 527-2147 or emailed at email@example.com.
The film takes many extraordinary routes. Barry is attacked by shady furniture sellers, he buys more pudding, goes to Hawaii, and finds love (among other things) all in the 97 minutes of runtime, sporting a bold blue suit the entire time. Adam Sandler gives a never-before-seen performance, with restraint from the obnoxious “Grownups” type of acting style for which he is so well-known. He delivers moments of true emotion that make the audience empathize with him (when they aren’t laughing at his hilarity). It is a lovely portrayal of a man whose shoes (or should I say suit) we all may have worn at some point.
1. Anderson, P. (Director). (2002). Punch-drunk love [Motion picture]. Columbia Pictures.