Barry Egan is weird. And not in the flamboyant, rather attractive way that, say, that the Royal Tenenbaums or the Addams Family are weird. No, Barry (Adam Sandler) is weird in the quietly desperate way that many normal people are weird -- they fit in on the surface but have all sorts of mundane obsessions and seething resentments underneath. In Barry's case, he's obsessed with a Healthy Choice rebate offer and resents his seven overbearing sisters. There is nothing about him that seems to merit the sudden appearance of Lena, who, we learn later, is so fixated on meeting him after seeing his picture that she orchestrates a "chance meeting." It pushes the edges of credibility when it happens, but then this third movie in Paul Thomas Anderson's L.A. trilogy (Boogie Nights, Magnolia) is not strictly trapped inside the logical confines of how things usually happen in the "real" world.
In fact, Anderson has composed a resonant fairy tale for a jaded modern age. Everything you'd find in the Brothers Grimm is here: seven sisters and four brothers, a lovely damsel worth fighting for, a dangerous journey to distant lands (well, Utah). If Anderson were more literal, this story could be as repetitively familiar as, well, Ever After. But he engages his pop culturally savvy audience by reinventing familiar fairy tale devices. A phone sex operator who tries to blackmail Barry fulfills the role of the evil queen; Philip Seymour Hoffman is mesmerizing as a bad-ass mattress salesman and the opponent Barry must vanquish in order to find happiness. Even Barry's blue suit (which we rarely see him out of) serves as a suit of armor, and such ordinary objects as a small toy piano and the "as seen on TV" Clapper operate as magical instruments. By the time Shelley Duvall's Olive Oyl love song from Popeye swells the screen, we're completely and happily enchanted.
The "Superbit" edition offers the high saturation that Jeremy Blake's abstract art and Adam Sandler's suit require. The extras, however, are mixed. A mini-feature and a selection of Scopitones feel like overkill, especially when paired with some cringingly obvious Jon Brion music. What's a lot more fun is the "Mattress Man commercial," in which Hoffman's character tries to pull off a typical low-budget commercial stunt and fails.
Publication date: 09/04/03