Mo' Film Notes: I never went to theaters as a kid where people talked back to the screen. When Eddie Murphy would joke about going to theaters with black audiences that talk incessantly during movies ("What the fuck you gonna do now? You dropped your pistol when you bust through the window. That's yo ass, I guess." "Shhhhh." "Somethin wrong with yo lips motherfucker?"), I'd still laugh because I could nevertheless imagine what it was like.
The crowd at The Ring on Friday wasn't quite as bad as Murphy described it, but they were definitely talkers. No real ethic distinctions either, though there was a noisy contingent of Latinos down in the left front. It was just a general tittering after almost every scare, a kind of "Oh shit, d'you see that?" comparison of responses, complete with scary mood-dampening laughter (which, I don't know. Did I object to the laughter? Or did I secretly welcome the dread dispersal?). During the opening credits a person above us in the top right yelled, "Shut up!" to the most salient titterers, and was greeted, from the lower left, with a "Go fuck yourself, bitch!", which riposte was met with scattered laughter that said, "Touche!"
The movie itself was scary as doodoo and I recommend it. Extremely creepy. In the end, it doesn't make nearly as much sense as I'd like it to. But I still enjoyed it a good deal. Much more than I enjoyed Punch-Drunk Love. I expected good things, since Paul Thomas Anderson brought me "Boogie Nights" and "Magnolia." He brought them right to me like a breakfast in bed consisting of eggs over medium, scrapple and English Muffins with fresh-squeezed orange juice and strong coffee. He done brung something with "Punch-Drunk," but hell if I know what it is. The problem isn't Adam Sandler, who is fine as the highly strung protagonist, Barry Egan, and whose career move here I fully support. Nor is it Emily Watson, who is great as the woman who inexplicably falls for Egan. Nor is it Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who is very good per usual. The problem, in the final analysis, is that I don't know why Anderson made it. He spent all that time bothering to make a film and this is it? (Maybe I'm projecting just a tad, aware of what it's like when you spend secret labor on something, all the while people wondering, "What the hell is he doing?", and then you show them and they just say or you can tell their response is, "That's it?") But seriously, I don't really see why he bothered with this, as mean as that sounds.
Critics have been rotating their wrists and extending their thumbs for this one. Why, I have no idea. They feel it's expected of them? They looked around the screening room during the closing credits, a blank expression on their faces, then collectively broke into nervous smiles, each thinking the other enjoyed it for reasons that must be valid?
One word I didn't see used to describe this movie is "discordant," which actual effect is largely achieved through the heart rate-propelling musical score. Why is Egan so painfully beaten down? His hectoring sisters? If so, that remains unexplored. Perhaps it doesn't matter why, we're just supposed to accept his character as a cipher, his condition symbolic of our age or a given set of circumstances. What does Emily Watson see in him? Perhaps we're not meant to know: It's the mystery of love, which ultimately empowers Egan and redeems him.
Though the film has moments of humor and originality and Anderson creates some great camera shots that are almost worth the price of admission (the L.A. roadside, at dawn, bleak yet filled with strange possibility, interrupted in a signature Anderson moment by an incredibly violent car crash; the freezer aisle), though, I say, the film has these things, ultimately this experience just didn't do it for me. He didn't seem to have much new to say, either on the subject of love or on the unhappiness of modern existence, American-style.