Anger Management

Satire of Our Overwrought Age Lamely Delivers

Anger Management is silly and funny and deserving of such small words. Director Peter Segal serves up a campy, if homophobic, reply to our therapeutic culture and the inordinate fear of a near-apocalypse that now fills our schools and airports and offices.

Adam Sandler is Dave Buznik, a meek “executive assistant” for a pet products company, who has spent the last two decades trying to blend in; still recovering from being de-pantsed just when he was about to kiss his dream girl back when Dukes of Hazzard were all that. His life is deeply dull, save for the bright brown eyes of Linda (Marisa Tomei), his devoted girlfriend.

While flying from his New York home to St. Louis, Dave is belittled in the usual fashion–his boss hangs up on him; Rico Suave won’t give him his assigned seat on the plane. Serendipity intercedes and Dave is placed beside Dr. Buddy Rydell (Jack Nicholson), a half-crazed “anger management specialist” who, while laughing at the in-flight movie, catches his breath just long enough to say things like, “I’m wettin’ my jockeys here!”

Dave does what’s diplomatic and asks for a pair of headphones so that he can watch too. The flight attendant ignores him, then berates him, and soon he is the Osama of the Air, delivering his best line–”I don’t know where a headset ties into patriotism”–and then getting tasered by a scowling U.S. Marshal.

Somewhere at cruising altitude

Dave is said to “assault” the attendant and ends up in court. He’s ordered to attend 20 hours of anger management classes where–surprise, surprise–Buddy is head guru. Buddy couldn’t be more obnoxious or unbelievable. He manipulates judges, moves in with his patients to observe their reading, sneezing, sleeping, and masturbating.

But the satirical point–as light as one of the overweight cats Dave designs clothes for–is made. Ours is a culture of questionable diseases (Dave has TAS, “Toxic Anger Syndrome”), overzealous federal agents, cubicles, Dr. Phil and emotivism, gooey spirituality, euphemisms (lying is called “dissembling”), hypersensitive identity politics (the flight attendant is NOT a stewardess), and emasculating therapy (Dave is ordered to entertain a “she-man” and sing the part of Maria on “I Feel Pretty”).

The movie is not without its charms–Heather Graham as the beauty queen who swears she’s a “porker” and Rudy Guliani at the Yankees. In several successful scenes reminiscent of the opening of Fight Club we see Dave with his therapy group. Buddy leads them in affirmation and relaxation; they chant the nonsensical “goooose-fra-ba” like a sacred koan. Adam Sandler is a skilled actor and–at its best–this performance is reminiscent of Punch Drunk Love.

Anger Management is number one in the box offices and is being billed as the feel-good shtick to take your mind off war. Don’t think about that pitch for too long. Even with the laughs this movie is too slow and too dumb. I’d recommend a walk in the park.