Punch-Drunk Love

A beleaguered small-business owner gets a harmonium and embarks on a romantic journey wth a mysterious woman.

Writers: Paul Thomas Anderson
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Stars:  Adam Sandler, Emma Watson,  Philip Seymour Hoffman
Runtime: 95 Minutes
Popcorn Score: Medium Popcorn with Butter

I finally understand why all of the “late night comedy” fans of Adam Sandler tore apart his performance, and the movie in general when “Punch-Drunk Love” came out back in 2003. It’s because it is nothing like what they expected.  In simple terms, this is so far from an “Adam Sandler” comedy that his presence in the film alone overshadows all of the masterful qualities in the movie.  Taking a look at the movie rolls that sandwiched his portrayal of Barry Egan, the shy, suffering, protagonist of “Punch Drunk Love” you see that his warm up to the dramatic part was playing “Townie” in “The Animal” a cameo bit in Rob Schneider’s ’01 comedy (4.6 stars out of 10 imdb.) He followed up his introverted roll by playing Longfellow deeds, a small town pizza pie owner who becomes the richest man in the world when his uncle dies in the comedy remake “Mr. Deeds”. It’s obvious to point out that his performance in Paul Thomas Anderson was anything but what audiences had come to expect.

In review, to simply compare Sandler’s performance to his typical rolls would be a grave disservice to this very interesting and complex art film, the third by Paul Thomas Anderson.  He writes a script that grabs a hold of the audience and makes you feel the moments rather than simply view them.  In scenes where there is little dialogue he uses the score of the film and nearly eerie camera movements to build the intensity and the suspense to the point where you feel anything could happen at any moment with the somewhat off keel character.   Although I watched the two films out of order, one would not have needed “There Will Be Blood” to realize that Paul Thomas Anderson is a prevailing filmmaker of our time.

Barry, who is an unlikely business owner, specializing in novelty toiletries, has 7 sisters who are constantly and uninvitedly entering his cherished personal space.  They are belittling and downright mean to their brother.  As he enters the birthday party for one of his sisters they all laugh about the time many years ago when he smashed a window because they would not stop calling him “Gay boy”.  You have the feeling that he has been subjected to this ridicule and the odd man out in his household from day one and that has exclusively shaped his personality.

The two main stories follow the trouble that Barry gets himself into after foolishly providing every bit of personal information to a telephone sex line one night during a moment of weakness.  He reveals to the seductive voice on the other end of the line that he is a business owner, so a team of thieves (led by Thomas Anderson regular, Phillip Seamore Hoffman) set out to harass and abuse him until he gives them all of his money.  There are chilling moments in which Barry feels trapped and as an audience member, as I mentioned before I felt like I was right there with him.  There are also moments of triumph in this storyline.

The second is a simple love story.  They are everything but the familiar characters in a typical movie love story, but it is romantic and heartwarming never the less.  This is the story line more than the first, although both intertwined throughout, wins out over the other and creates the ultimately heartwarming story that this movie is.

As with all PT Anderson movies it is brilliantly shot with imagery throughout that is truly breathtaking. In Punch-Drunk Love the characters are raw and real , you feel for them and root for them.  You are also brought into each scene and engaged in the exact emotion that Anderson is depicting.  I would advise to curb your expectations when you see Adam Sandler’s name boldly across the front of the DVD case.  Go into it excepting a lightly dramatic and obscure yet amusing love story and this well-made film by one of the best filmmakers of this time will not leave you disappointed.

Medium Popcorn with Butter.


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