The strangest thing about writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson's unusual comedy is how much of it is based on a true story. In 1999, a California man noticed a marketing mistake in a promotion run by Healthy Choice foods and earned over a million frequent flyer miles by sending in the UPC codes from some 12,000 cups of the company's pudding. He became known as the "pudding man," and Anderson figured he'd make the perfect hero of his fourth feature, a dizzy romantic comedy that's darkened somewhat by a few touches of film noir. Barry Egan (Adam Sandler) may run his own business selling junk like decorative plungers ("fungers") at wholesale, and live alone in Sherman Oaks, Calif., but in many ways he's still an adolescent. He's too shy to meet girls, and the taunts of his seven harpy-like sisters can still send him into irrational fits of blind, destructive rage. Barry's life changes dramatically the morning he notices the flaw in the Healthy Choice promotional campaign. A strange sound lures him out onto the deserted stretch of road in front of his warehouse, and shortly after a checker cab mysteriously deposits a battered harmonium at his feet, a white Geo pulls up with a pretty Englishwoman named Lena (Emily Watson) behind the wheel. The meeting appears to be accidental, but the truth is that she works with Barry's sister, Rhonda (Hazel Mailloux); Lena was hoping to meet Barry before she left for Hawaii on business. That night, in a moment of weakness, Barry calls a phone-sex line and gives all of his personal information to a throaty voice named Georgia (Ashley Clark). The next morning, Georgia calls back and demands he send her $750, or there'll be trouble. Barry hangs up on her, and Georgia makes good on her threat: Four blond brothers dispatched by Georgia's sleazy boss (Philip Seymour Hoffman) soon arrive in Sherman Oaks. Desperate to shake them, Barry hits on a plan: Redeem thousands of cups of Healthy Choice pudding and fly to Lena in Hawaii. Anderson has done something interesting with Sandler's overworked man-child persona: He's transformed him into a disturbingly childish man, a troubled adult whose immaturity hints at something a lot darker than Happy Gilmore. The film around him is really an old-fashioned romantic comedy, yet nothing about it seems conventional. Robert Elswit's cinematography bends nearly every rule in the book, and the soundtrack, which purloins Shelly Duvall warbling "He Needs Me" from Robert Altman's POPEYE, is downright loopy, perfectly matching the tone of this unpredictable film.
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- Released: 2002
- Rating: R
- Review: The strangest thing about writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson's unusual comedy is how much of it is based on a true story. In 1999, a California man noticed a marketing mistake in a promotion run by Healthy Choice foods and earned over a million frequent… (more)