Social Anxiety in Movies: Punch-Drunk Love

SA-Punch-Drunk Love

Punch-Drunk Love is a Paul Thomas Anderson version of a romantic comedy between Barry and Lena, two shy, socially awkward characters.

Punch-Drunk Love [2002]

  • Written and Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson
  • Starring: Adam Sandler, Emily Watson, Philip Seymour Hoffman
  • Watch: Online  – DVD
  • Read: Screenplay 

Trailer:

About:

Punch-Drunk Love was Adam Sandler’s first attempt at a more serious dramatic role. Was he able to pull off an accurate portrayal of someone with social anxiety?

Psychoanalysis: (Warning! Full spoilers ahead…)

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At work, Barry’s sisters (he has seven of them) keep calling him to make sure he’s going to their party that night. By the way they keep nagging him, you get the feeling that he usually skips these types of things, but he insists he’s going this time.

KATHLEEN

You can’t just stay in your house.

BARRY

I know.

Social anxiety can make us afraid to go to social gatherings like birthday parties, even if it’s with our family.

ELIZABETH

So you’re coming tonight, right?

BARRY

Yes, indeed, yes I am.

ELIZABETH

There’s this girl, this friend of mine from work that I think is really cute and really cool and I want you to meet her so I was thinking about bringing her to the party tonight.

BARRY

Oh yeah no I don’t want to do that.

ELIZABETH

Why?

BARRY

Well I don’t want to do something like that.

ELIZABETH

She’s my friend and you should meet her. You’d like her.

BARRY

Yeah, but please don’t do that.

Barry was probably already a little nervous about going to the party with just his sisters and their families there, but his sister trying to set him up with a girl there as well was a bridge too far for him.

BARRY

Yeah but please don’t do that: everyone would be looking at me.

ELIZABETH

It’s a free country, we can look at you if we want to.

BARRY

Yes but I get tense and I feel like I can’t be myself if that happens.

ELIZABETH

That’s your fault not mine.

BARRY

I don’t think I’m going to the party.

The feeling that “everyone would be looking at me” is a common symptom of social anxiety. That fear of being judged makes us tense and unable to act like ourselves.

BARRY

…please, I just don’t want it….

ELIZABETH

Why is this about you now? Why is it always about you?

BARRY

Yeah, no, it’s not, it’s just —

ELIZABETH

I’m trying to be your friend.

BARRY

I know.

ELIZABETH

I’m trying to get you a girlfriend.

Elizabeth is a little inconsiderate toward Barry and doesn’t seem to understand his social anxiety. But at the same time, she’s kind of right. Social anxiety is a little narcissistic in a way because we are constantly thinking about ourselves. But whereas narcissists think they are superior to others, people with social anxiety think they are inferior to others. We worry about what others will think about us, but they rarely think about us as much as we fear they do.

In the clip above, Barry gets to the party, walks in the door, then overhears his sisters talking about him, which makes him feel awkward, so he steps back out, then he keeps walking in and out of the door, waiting for them to stop talking about him. When he finally does enter the house, his sisters continue talking about him to his face anyway.

With social anxiety, we have a fear of being the center of attention in situations like that, especially when people are talking about us. And ESPECIALLY when they are talking about something that embarrasses us.

ELIZABETH

Hey….I was just telling everyone about how I was gonna bring this girl for you but you wouldn’t let me do it.

BARRY

Hello everyone.

KAREN

Did you think that we’d all be looking at you?

BARRY

No, no, no.

KAREN

Well it’s just not true. We wouldn’t be looking at you — why are you wearing this suit? Did you say hello to your brother in law’s?

Barry was afraid everyone would look at him and judge him. Karen says they wouldn’t be looking at him. Yet right after that, she makes a comment about his suit. Someone with social anxiety would get really bothered by that and regret wearing the suit, and wish they hadn’t gone to the party, which would make them not want to go next time.

It’s not that people won’t ever look at us and judge us. But Karen moves on right after the suit comment, indicating that the judgements others may have about us aren’t that important to them. It’s not worth it for us to get all worked up about a comment from others and constantly think about it, when they will never think about it again.

ELIZABETH

You’re lucky. She couldn’t come anyway —

BARRY

Well I’m glad you didn’t, thank you.

ELIZABETH

She couldn’t come I said. Are you nervous?

BARRY

No.

ELIZABETH

You look nervous.

BARRY

I’m not, I’m very happy.

Barry says he’s happy, but he’s clearly nervous. Social anxiety makes us afraid to admit we have social anxiety.

Barry’s sisters continue to talk about Barry and the “gayboy” nickname they used to call him, and the girl who they’re trying to set him up with. Barry gets so embarrassed that he can’t take it anymore and smashes the sliding glass doors.

I can relate to feeling so embarrassed that I’d want to break glass, but social anxiety would make me too afraid to actually act out like that in front of other people.

BARRY

I wanted to ask you because you’re a doctor, right?

WALTER

Yeah.

BARRY

I don’t like the way I am sometimes. Can you help me?

WALTER

Barry, I’m a dentist, what kind of help do you think I can give you?

BARRY

I know that. Maybe you know other doctors?

WALTER

Like a psychiatrist?

BARRY

I don’t have anyone to talk to things about and I understand it’s confidential with a doctor – I’m embarrassed about that and I don’t want my sisters to know?

The biggest problem with social anxiety is that the illness itself prevents us from getting treatment for the illness.

WALTER

but what exactly is wrong?

BARRY

I don’t know if there’s anything wrong with me because I don’t know how other people are.

Another problem with social anxiety is that we aren’t even aware of all the negative thoughts constantly running through our heads, so we don’t know whether other people have those same thoughts as us.

BARRY

Please don’t tell my sisters.

Barry’s biggest concern is that his sisters will find out, which is another symptom of social anxiety. He is afraid that they will judge him and make fun of him for seeing a psychiatrist.

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Barry calls a phone-sex line, not because he’s horny, but because he’s lonely. He doesn’t want to talk dirty with her. He just wants someone to talk to.

BARRY

……and this is confidential?

OPERATOR GIRL (O.C.)

What do you mean?

BARRY

It’s….confidential, the call, my information is private.

Privacy is Barry’s main concern because he’s afraid of what others would think of him for calling a sex line.

She tries to talk sexy, but Barry just makes casual small talk, either because he’s afraid to talk sexy, or because he’s not interested in that, and just wants someone to talk to.

Barry’s sister, Elizabeth, shows up at his work with her friend, Lena.

ELIZABETH

This is Lena, she’s a good friend of mine from work. We were in the neighborhood and she had to pick up her car and we’re getting breakfast before we go in, so did you want to go? We’re gonna go and eat, let’s go.

BARRY

Yeah I can’t.

ELIZABETH

Why?

BARRY

I have work, I can’t leave.

Barry is at work, but he’s the boss and can leave if he wanted to, but he is afraid to go out with Lena.

The music in this scene really helps convey the sense of anxiety and tenseness Barry feels. It’s really jarring music with an odd beat and percussion, that just feels…anxious.

The woman from the phone sex line calls Barry at work, trying to extort him for money.

BARRY

This is….illegal….I’ll call the police.

SEXY VOICE

No you won’t.

Barry could call the police. He did nothing wrong, after all. But he’s afraid to because if the police got involved, then others were bound to find out he called the sex line, such as his sisters. The anxiety over that potential embarrassment makes him too afraid to call the police. So he doesn’t.

ELIZABETH

— do you think you’ll ask her out?

BARRY

I feel really on the spot now.

ELIZABETH

Are you gonna do it?

BARRY

I don’t do that. I don’t – things like that.

ELIZABETH

You don’t do anything, why are you being scared?

BARRY

I’m not being scared, you’re just going to rag me if I do this —

ELIZABETH

I’m not gonna rag you. Why would I do this just to rag you?

BARRY

I don’t know.

Two symptoms of social anxiety are: 1) Feeling “on the spot” when people pop uncomfortable questions on us; and 2) Having false negative beliefs that others will judge us or “rag on us.”

ELIZABETH

Did you ask Walter to get you a shrink? Barry, did you ask Walter to get you a shrink? What’s wrong with you? Are you ok?

BARRY

I didn’t ask him that. He’s lying.

ELIZABETH

You’re being weird again, see. Come on. Please don’t be weird.

Barry feels so ashamed and worried what everyone will think of him for seeing a shrink that he refuses to admit it to his sister. While that’s not exactly a healthy mindset for Barry to have, it doesn’t help for his own sister to call him “weird.”

LENA

It must be weird for you to have so many sisters?

BARRY

No. Not at all. It’s nice.

He’s too shy to admit how tormented he is by his sisters. It’s easier to say everything is fine than reveal the anxiety we are feeling to others.

BARRY

Do you have brothers or sisters?

LENA

No. I’m the exact opposite —

BARRY

That must be nice. That must be really, really, really great.

LENA

It’s terrible, no.

Barry feels such anxiety and torment from his sisters that he thinks it would be great to be an only child.

LENA

What do you do with all this pudding?

BARRY

That’s not mine it’s one of the guys that works here. That pudding’s not mine.

He’s ashamed to admit the truth about the pudding and tell her about his frequent flyer miles plan.

ELIZABETH

Are you coming to eat with us?

BARRY

Yeah I can’t.

Even after meeting her and liking her, he’s still too afraid to go because his sister would be there and he’s afraid of her judging him.

Lena goes back in to speak to Barry alone, without Elizabeth.

LENA

I’m going to go and eat tomorrow night do you want to go with me?

BARRY

Sure.

With Elizabeth out of the equation, Barry agrees because he doesn’t have to worry about what she and his other sisters will think.

BARRY

I didn’t ask anyone for a shrink, that was someone else. Also: This pudding is not mine. Also: I’m wearing a suit because I had a very important business meeting this morning and I don’t have a crying problem.

He feels so embarrassed and self-conscious that he lies about the shrink, the pudding, his suit, and his crying because he doesn’t want Lena to judge him.

Lena tells him the truth that he dropped her car off on purpose to meet him.

BARRY

Did you really come to meet me on purpose or are you lying about that?

Barry refuses to believe it — that a pretty girl like Lena would actually be interested in him. This is a sign of low self-esteem, which is associated with social anxiety.

He later feels comfortable enough to tell Lena the truth about the pudding.

BARRY

You see if you spent $3,000 dollars on pudding you could earn over one million frequent flyer miles.

LENA

That’s insane. That is really, really crazy. That’s just crazy if you spend three thousand dollars on pudding.

BARRY

….yeah….

LENA

So that was your pudding?

BARRY

….No….

LENA

I’m sorry. I thought you said —

BARRY

No I didn’t say that.

LENA

I thought you said you bought all that pudding —

BARRY

My friend Carlos is doing it who works with me. It’s his. It’s his pudding, he’s doing it. It’s not mine. He’s crazy. I told him not to do it. He’s the one who’s insane.

Barry feels embarrassed and self-critical when she calls his pudding plan “crazy and insane” so he backtracks and tries to deflect so she won’t think he’s crazy.

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Then Lena asks about that embarrassing childhood story his sister told her about him.

BARRY

I don’t remember that, she might be lying.

He gets so embarrassed that he leaves to go to the bathroom and tears it apart from anger, then returns to Lena as if nothing happened. Again, the extreme embarrassment over this trivial social situation is emblematic of social anxiety, but not necessarily the angry violent outbursts.

Barry follows Lena to Hawaii but doesn’t tell anyone.

ELIZABETH

Tell me why.

BARRY

There is no reason for you to treat me like you do — you’re killing me, you are killing me with the way that you are towards me —

When Elizabeth asks why Barry wants Lena’s phone number in Hawaii, he freaks out. With social anxiety, it feels like an attack when others pry into our personal business, especially our romantic lives.

ELIZABETH (O.C.)

You wouldn’t want to go out with him anyway, honestly, he’s such a freak sometimes.

LENA

He did seem a little strange.

ELIZABETH (O.C.)

Well…he’s not that strange, don’t say that.

LENA

I’m sorry. You’re right.

ELIZABETH (O.C.)

I think he’s weird, but that’s me.

Barry felt that if his sisters loved him, they’d respect his social anxiety and leave him alone. But Elizabeth reveals that despite all the “ragging” she and her sisters do to Barry, they actually do love him and defend him to others.

As Barry and Lena spend time alone together in Hawaii, they fall in love.

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Back in Los Angeles, Barry has to deal with the people from the phone sex line still trying to extort him. He was timid and cowardly in his first encounter with the blonde brothers from Utah, but the next time, after they threatened the safety of Lena, Barry is like a different man, and confidently beats them with a tire iron. Social anxiety can go out the window when a loved one is in danger. As seen in Barry’s shouting match over the phone with Dean (Philip Seymour Hoffman).

BARRY

YOU GO FUCK YOURSELF. YOU GO FUCK YOURSELF. YOU GO FUCK YOURSELF. MY LOVE WAS HURT, SHE GOT HURT. I AM IN LOVE WITH HER AND YOU HURT YOU AND YOU ARE GONNA FUCKING GET HURT. YOU DON’T TOUCH HER, I LOVE HER.

After Barry visits Dean in person, and they agree, “That’s that,” Barry returns to Lena, and he tells her all about the phone sex and the pudding frequent flyer miles. He is completely honest with her for the first time, indicating that he is no longer ashamed and embarrassed around her. Because Barry loves Lena, he is free of social anxiety with her.

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Judgement:

Adam Sandler’s performance of Barry Egan might be the best of his career. He was really able to capture the essence of a character tormented by social anxiety around his overbearing sisters. I don’t know how else to end this review, other than to say, “That’s that!”

Punch-Drunk Love as a movie: 9/10

As a portrayal of social anxiety: 9/10

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One thought on “Social Anxiety in Movies: Punch-Drunk Love

  1. Pingback: Social Anxiety in Movies | Tim Barry Jr.

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