Punch-Drunk Love (2002)
So what do you get when you cross clown prince Adam Sandler and the writer/director of the lengthy epics Magnolia and Boogie Nights? Well you get the most unique romantic comedy ever, that’s what.
Barry Egan (Sandler) is a self-employed supplier of novelty toilet plungers. His seven older sisters have made it their job to torment him ever since he was young. In moments of confession of his unhappiness Barry usually prefaces by pleading with people not to tell his sisters. Barry is a timid introverted wallflower yet full of volatile rage fit to senselessly trash a restaurant bathroom. Lena Leonard (Emily Watson) pursues Barry after being introduced through one of his sisters. Lena latches onto the oddball and he finds the maternal comfort and acceptance he has missed his entire life. Somehow these two souls have crossed paths and become exactly what the other has always needed.
But Barry has trouble ahead of him. One night he called a phone sex line and innocently gave out all of his personal information over the phone. Now a sleazy Provo mattress store owner (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) is extorting money from Barry and using four blond Mormon brothers as his muscle. When Barry confronts the thugs, whom have now begun to endanger Lena as well, he boldly states, ”I have a love in my life and that gives me more strength than you will ever know.” You cant help but believe it and genuinely feel for the resurgence of this character’s dignity.
Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson spins an engrossing character study deconstructing the angry goofball Sandler has been so accustomed to playing in all his slapstick comedies. He plays the same character archetype but is now given new dimensions to play with and depth. The true revelation of Punch-Drunk Love is that Sandler can really act. No, really, I’m dead serious.
The direction and writing are much more restrained than with Andersons previous films. The world of Punch-Drunk Love is full of stark colors, slow camera movements and vast amounts of spatial emptiness. The scope is much narrower, focusing on a small set of characters and just allowing them to tell the story without outside interference — like a frog shower. Due to the attention paid to Barry, everyone else becomes underwritten including the stoic love interest. After being convinced of Barry’s instabilities the audience is left to assume sheer blind faith at what Lena sees in Barry.
Punch-Drunk Love gleefully ignores and plays with romantic comedy conventions. The running time is under 90 minutes, (which is still only HALF of Magnolia) but the pacing is precise. John Brions percussion heavy musical score wonderfully displays the boiling anger behind Barrys placid exterior during key moments.
The storytelling of Punch-Drunk Love is full of uneasily accessible quirks and will likely be reacted to with hostility by mainstream America. What Anderson has crafted is an arty Adam Sandler movie that few thought even possible. Next thing you’ll tell me is that David Lynch will do a G-rated Disney Film. What’s that now?
Nate’s Grade: B+
Posted on November 3, 2002, in 2002 Movies and tagged adam sandler, drama, emily watson, luis guzman, paul thomas anderson, phillip seymour hoffman, quirky, romance. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.
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