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Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

  Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Written by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Luis Guzmán, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Adam Sandler, Emily Watson
Music by: Jon Brion
Links: Punch-Drunk Love on the IMDb, Buy on Video, Buy on DVD, Buy the Soundtrack
Genre: Drama

This movie gets: 8.50 (2 ratings) Ranking: Ranked equal 35th of 187 movies (2 ratings minimum; see full chart)

Punch-Drunk Love (2002) is also mentioned in em_fiction's review of Anger Management (2003) and em_fiction's review of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004).

"Not bad, but not great" - a review by mino

It's pretty rare that an Adam Sandler film makes it on to my ‘must-see list’. I don't hate Sandler, but he's not exactly the world's greatest actor, let's face it. However, if there's one thing that promises to be intriguing — if not good, at least intriguing — it's the idea of Adam Sandler starring in a film by Paul Thomas Anderson (of Boogie Nights (1997) and Magnolia (1999) fame). Anderson's track record is impressive, and the idea of an off-the-wall romantic comedy with Sandler and Emily Watson is a fascinating one.

Unfortunately, I fear I might have built my expectations up a little too high; because for me, Punch-Drunk Love was a fairly sizable disappointment. The movie has the potential to be something different and incredible — as with Anderson's previous works. Alas, it's potential that never really seemed to be fulfilled, as far as I was concerned.

Punch-Drunk Love is the story of Barry, a small businessman who spends his days dealing with a bunch of less-than-genius coworkers and his seven shrewish sisters who alternate between mothering him, trying to set him up with their friends, and treating him with nothing more than contempt. Barry is something of an outcast, partially because he's an awkward and socially inept, and partially because his frustration at his ineffectualness occasionally boils over in fits of irrational rage. Barry's life is turned upside-down when he meets Lena (Watson), a woman with whom he is more-or-less instantly smitten. Barry tries to straighten up and impress Lena, but it turns out that she's not without her own foibles, and is, in her own way, nearly as maladjusted as Barry is.

So what's wrong with Punch-Drunk Love? Well, let's be fair: not that much. It's a good film, but just not nearly as good as I thought it might have been. Sandler turns in a good performance, but not a brilliant one: Barry is simply a more three-dimensional version of the same character Sandler plays in every other movie he makes, and really doesn't seem to be that much of a stretch. Watson is competent but oddly unengaging. Even Philip Seymour Hoffman, a personal favourite, I found rather weak. Once again, he plays a total whackjob sleazeball, but this time he's just… unconvincing. I'm not sure I can explain it particularly well, but the movie just failed to catch my interest in any significant way.

There are several interesting subplots (let's just call them ‘the phone-sex line plot’ and “the pudding plot’), but they weren't fleshed-out enough to compensate for a rather dull central storyline. Anderson produces amazing, multi-layered, complex works like Magnolia, but in Punch-Drunk Love he makes a movie that fails to weave together the usual fascinating characters and brilliant dialogue. The characters should be interesting, but they're given strangely stitled lines which make them just seem fake. I think, if anything, Anderson seems to get a little wrapped up in his own cleverness, and fails to live up to his previous high standards.

Perhaps I've been a little bit harsh. I really have made it sound like this was a substandard film, and it's not. It's clever, and has some very interesting ideas. The characters are more well-developed and intelligently thought through than in 99% of Hollywood dross, and the subplots are great in their innovativeness and the way they give you insight into the characters involved. However, I just found it very difficult to get over the fact that, unlike previous Anderson movies, I just never cared what happened to the characters. I didn't care if they fell in love; I didn't care if they reconciled with their families or got cheap frequent-flyer points or got murdered by porn shysters. They were just some people in a movie.

Good, but needs to be a bit less pretentious and a bit more interesting.

mino gives this movie 7 out of 10.
Review created on Wed 21 Jul 2004

"Punch-Drunk Heaven" - a review by em_fiction

Boogie Nights (1997) painted a very depressing picture of the porn industry and Magnolia (1999) depicted ordinary lives woven into a bizarre web of relationships. They were pretty awesome films, so it's safe to say Paul Thomas Anderson's next picture, Punch-Drunk Love, would be just as promising.

P.T. has toned down the profanity from his last two films to deliver something gentler. Barry Egan (Adam Sandler) runs a small dead-end business selling toiletries. Coming from a family with seven domineering sisters, Barry feels rather lonely and frustrated. One desperate night, Barry regrettably gives his details to a sleazy phone sex line that didn't end up being all that satisfying. He then meets Lena (Emily Watson), a pleasant, fascinating woman who shows interest in him, so with a marketing scam up his sleeve Barry reckons he can start something special with Lena. Alas, knowing Barry's details, the phone sex company returns to start hassling him which threatens his blossoming relationship.

Punch-Drunk Love, to me, is the best film that both Adam Sandler and P.T Anderson have ever made. The story is intriguing, romantic and very original. P.T. Anderson has written a script which has extremely witty, amusing and at times, heartrending elements.

We all know Adam Sandler and his formula of comedy and to be honest, I laugh myself silly every time I watch Billy Madison (1995) and Happy Gilmore (1996). So, like most Sandler fans, it was sad to see him drift off track with crap like Little Nicky (2000) which was, well, crap.

It was so pleasing to see Adam Sandler move away from his own, uh, "dickhead" style of humour to something much deeper and meaningful. Barry is an unstable, introvert character who has occasional moments of violent outbursts which are somehow both funny and miserable. If you're familiar with Adam Sandler, you'll know that outbursts are his thing (e.g. Happy Gilmore). What's different about Barry is that he's not being a dickhead for laughs (which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but anyway); Sandler is actually giving Barry's volatility reason and using it to develop his character effectively.

Emily Watson is very efficient as Lena and portrays the perfect character to contrast Barry. Philip Seymour Hoffman makes a delightfully funny appearance as the, uh, villain if you like - the owner of the phone sex company. I don't think you'll ever see him as eccentric as this.

It's sad how Punch-Drunk Love got snubbed so badly at the Oscars. Both Boogie Nights and Magnolia received Oscar nominations for Best Original Screenplay, and if this deserved anything it'd be that, but of course it didn't. What's sadder is that in the same year, My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002) even received the Original Screenplay nomination. What is going on here?

Paul Thomas Anderson has created a film that's nothing short of a masterpiece - a solid display ever of how love changes a person. The flooding of soft, dreamy colours during the interludes, the memorable, timeless soundtrack, the beautifully captured cinematography, the original, profound narrative together with a wonderful cast - Punch-Drunk Love is an absolutely unforgettable experience.

em_fiction gives this movie 10 out of 10.
Review created on Wed 10 Dec 2003

Movie review statistics

Number of reviews: 2
Average rating: 8.50
Lowest rating: 7 (by mino)
Highest rating: 10 (by em_fiction)
Rating Percentage

Reader comments

  1. Adam really shines in this delightful film

    Rating given: 10

    A comment from Mr Black on Tue 06 Jan 2004 13:56 #

Those who have commented give this movie: 10.00 (1 rating)

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