Director: Peter Segal
Cast: Adam Sandler, Jack Nicholson, Marisa Tomei, John Turturro, Luis Guzman
MPAA Rating: (for crude sexual content and language)
Running Time: 1:41
Release Date: 4/11/03
Review by Mark Dujsik
So, I was really enjoying Anger Management. Laughing at Adam Sandler's misanthropic antics is not something I am prone to do, but screenwriter David Dorfman has given the Sandler persona a foil. The Sandler persona, of course, is an introverted loser prone to random fits of rage. Paul Thomas Anderson used this with great result in Punch-Drunk Love, and Dorfman seems to have understanding of it enough to acknowledge that his behavior is in need of some therapeutic help. The help comes in the form of Jack Nicholson, an actor famous for his outburst scenes, so by comparison, Sandler seems the saner. This is the first time Sandler doesn't go it solo, and it works, plain and simple, as does much of the humor in the first half of Anger Management. But then Dorfman takes a wrong turn, and the movie never recovers. Gradually, the comedy shifts focus from the character mismatch to Sandler alone, and the movie itself transforms into a typical Sandler comedy, complete with random jokes and mushy, false sentimentality.
Dave Buznik (Sandler) is a socially inept man, haunted by the demons of a miserably embarrassing childhood. He has a generally uncomfortable demeanor and a non-confrontational personality and has problems with public displays of affection, much to the silent but obvious frustration of his girlfriend Linda (Marisa Tomei). It means that he does loads of work for his boss and still hasn't received the promotion that was promised him, and it means that when the flight attendant on a business trip doesn't get him headphones immediately, he doesn't say anything until the passenger next to him convinces him to do so. Well, that incident is blown out of proportion, thanks to some good, old-fashioned American paranoia, and soon Dave finds himself in court for assaulting the woman, even though he merely nudged her arm as she walked by. Turns out, the court finds against him, and now Dave has to undergo anger management therapy. His instructor: Dr. Buddy Rydell (Nicholson), an eccentric (understatement) therapist known for his unconventional methods and who also happened to be the passenger next to him on the flight that got Dave into this mess in the first place.
He attends a meeting, meets a group of people with rage problems, and somehow ends up in court again after indirectly participating in a barroom brawl with Rydell. So now, this is where things really start paying off, as Dr. Rydell comes to Dave's aid in court and offers to personally take responsibility over his treatment. This means, of course, that Rydell must spend every reasonable waking hour with Dave. Dave is the court-ordered sociopath, but Rydell seems the more in need of treatment. He explodes Oscar Madison-style and throws his breakfast plate against the wall when Dave makes his eggs fried instead of sunny-side up. He pulls the emergency break during rush hour traffic when Dave is frustrated for running late and forces him to sing "I Feel Pretty" to calm down (this, along with Analyze That, marks the second time this year that music from West Side Story is used as a bit). These comic moments work because Dorfman and director Peter Segal take advantage of the classic formula of mismatched mates and play it straight.
That and of course the obvious fact that Sandler and Nicholson seem the oddest screen pairing in a long while. Nicholson is funny simply by giving a look—a knowing smile, a devious raise of the eyebrows, or the anticipation of accompanying Sandler in Bernstein and Sondheim—and his delivery is precise. Sandler's job for most of the gags is to play the straightman for once, and his vacant stare and uninvolved tone work to his advantage. When he does start to turn aggressive, he has good reason, considering it's Nicholson doing the pushing. The script, however, subtly begins deviating from its setup and by the end has turned into the usual, unsuccessful Sandler fare. That includes the random gags that seem either to be inside jokes or pointless moments of absurdity. There are traces of these throughout, like Dave's childhood bully having a sister who had a mental breakdown and a woman who makes a joke about messing the toilet seat, but for the most part, they are kept under control. Eventually, it feels like we're assailed by them. A cacophony of cameos is utilized—funny at first, tiresome as they progress—and the ending features a twist that makes us question not only Dave's sanity but his intelligence—his and Dorfman's.
I'm rating Anger Management lower than Sandler's Mr. Deeds, which was his last movie before Punch-Drunk Love, and I feel a need to clarify, even though it is simply an irrelevant rating in stars. I felt neither here nor there about Mr. Deeds, but after enjoying a good portion of Anger Management, I'm ultimately left disappointed by it.Note: Atop Dave's apartment building stands an Army recruitment billboard. At first, I thought it was a pretty random set decoration, but then I started to think that perhaps it was an observation about us as a society in America. John Turturro plays a veteran dealing with anger issues, so I think the parallel between rage in our society on an individual level and how we are seen as a country seems fitting. But now who's thinking randomly?
Copyright © 2003 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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