February 19, 2018


Movie Review:
Punch-Drunk Love

By Matt Singer

Barry Egan is a salesman who wears a bright blue suit with a white shirt, and can frequently be spotted in front of backgrounds composed primarily of blue and white (like the two-toned wall of his self-owned business). Clearly this is not your frat brotherís Adam Sandler movie, even if Sandler plays Egan in a manner similar to the rest of his starring roles; as a shockingly violent man-child whose rants and property destruction suggest a very deep case of self-loathing. But compared to early Sandler protagonists like Happy Gilmore or Billy Madison, Barryís got a secret weapon - the ability to articulate his despair, thanks to a very intelligent script by writer / director Paul Thomas Anderson. He gives Sandler a great film to act in, and Sandler gives Anderson a performance that proves heís deserving of his success, if only in hindsight.

Eganís an oddball for sure, he wears that same suit almost every moment of Punch-Drunk Love, for reasons even he is unclear of. He runs his own business and lives a very lonely life. But heís a bright guy; heís making some money and heís found an incredible scheme where he can buy cheap pudding cans and earn enough frequent flyer miles so heíll never have to pay for a plane ticket again. Of course, Barry doesnít like to travel, or have anywhere to go, but thatís sort of inconsequential.

Punch-Drunk takes the Sandler archetype and sort of deposits him in a world in which he has to live and earn his own way (Most of his previous characters lived with parents or were so wealthy they didnít have to work; a recurring theme in his films) and his violent outbursts are tied to a specific area of his life; his relationship with his seven sisters who hound him, call him bad names, and eventually the passive aggressiveness builds to the point where he canít take it and he explodes, destroying bathrooms or breaking glass windows. This is a Happy Gilmore whose actions have repercussions. This doesnít necessarily mean the film isnít funny, itís just a different comedy; one that draws humor out of honest reactions from Barry and from the strangeness of life in general.

Barryís life takes two simultaneous strange turns. He meets Lena (Emily Watson) who is very interested in dating the shy Barry, but just before this happens, Barry calls up a phone sex line and winds up becoming embroiled in a blackmail scheme that threatens to ruin the budding relationship. Both of these angles play so well off each other; Watson is adorable and really looks like she loves Barry, and the phone calls Barry keeps getting generates some great tension. Eventually the two come to a head, and Barry reacts in an unexpected, but completely logical, way that has you practically cheering him on. And loathe as I am to admit it, the filmís finale is so romantic I almost got a little misty-eyed.

Anderson is the very talented director of Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, and Magnolia, and in Punch-Drunk his greatest secret weapon is his usage of single takes so fluid and full of action that you often forget that whole scenes are passing by with a single cut. A lot of people use single takes to be showy, like they have something to prove; and often they wind up distracting from the content. Anderson had his share of those shots (Going into and out of the pool in Boogie Nights anyone?), but here his choice of shots is always in service of the story. My favorite moment is a scene just after a character has landed in the hospital and Barry stands a nervous watch at their bedside. The camera pushes in and it looks like Barry is moving toward the door without actually walking; as if heís being pulled by some invisible force, and in an emotional way, he is.

The filmís only flaw is that with only 94 minutes of film, we never get to know Lena the way we know Barry and that makes her devotion to him harder to understand than it should be. Still, I was charmed by the visuals, stunned by the acting, and moved by the romance. When the film ended and the credits rolled I got that feeling that happens to me only when I watch one of the very best movies; that I was ready to sit in my seat and let the film reroll again in its entirety. Yes, Adam Sandler the actor is a good thing. Letís hope he sticks around for some more films. Judging from the previews for 8 Crazy Nights we might not seem him again for a while.


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