If you liked Adam Sandler in The Wedding Singer and Punch Drunk Love, you’ll probably enjoy Reign Over Me. If you liked him in The Waterboy and Little Nicky, then you’ll probably wonder who this guy is and why he looks like Bob Dylan.
Reign Over Me is the story of Alan Johnson (Don Cheadle) and Charlie Fineman (Adam Sandler), roommates at dental school who reconnect after years of being out of touch.
Johnson has no real friends or life outside of his family and is browbeaten by his wife as well as his partners at the dental practice he built. Fineman lost his family in the 9/11 attacks and now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. He lives alone in his New York apartment and has no photographs or other reminders of his family and constantly remodels his kitchen. Johnson gets sucked into “Charlieworld,” staying at Fineman’s apartment all night playing Shadow of the Colossus and participating in jam sessions on drums and electric guitar. He decides to try and help Fineman, and in the process discovers how to repair relationships in his own life.
That summary really doesn’t do this film justice. Reign Over Me is an excellently crafted film. The viewer is sucked into the world and really feels Fineman’s grief as well as Johnson’s frustration and lack of empowerment. Furthermore, this is not a Lifetime TV “inspirational” story about a man who has PTSD and his best friend who helps him through hard times. Fineman, who has developed mechanisms to cope with his grief, is free in many ways that Johnson is not, and Johnson learns how to take and keep some of that freedom for himself. Meanwhile, Johnson helps start the healing process that Fineman needs to start functioning in society again. Fineman and Johnson are good for each other and help one another; it’s not just a story about Johnson pitying Fineman and trying to “fix” him.
There are also instances of humor, such as when Johnson relates to Fineman his troubles at work and Fineman makes some observant commentary on how “weird” it is that this woman wants to have sex with him. The audience can’t help but chuckle when Fineman describes his daughters’ idiosyncrasies even while he descends into grief recollecting how he lost his family. You can’t help but admire scripting and acting that can evoke that kind of uncomfortable pathos.
Sandler’s acting really deserves a kudos here. His performance as Fineman is impressive, from his slurred speech to various physical tics to lack of eye contact. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, he did a lot of research for this role, including talking to survivors who had lost friends and family members in the 9/11 attacks, learning what they were afraid of and how they handled each day. Sandler is a fine actor when he chooses to take on a role that challenges him, and he and Cheadle have great chemistry. You can believe these guys are good friends.
Basically, Reign Over Me is a good movie. No, it’s a Good Movie. (It deserves those capital letters.) Just go see it. Even if you hate Adam Sandler. Actually, especially if you hate Adam Sandler, because chances are you’ll like him in this one.