Punch-Drunk Love

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The ViewAuckland Review

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Review byMatthew Turner3/02/2003

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 90 mins

Bizarre, unconventional, yet nonetheless oddly charming film, with great performances by its two leads.

After the critical success of both Boogie Nights and Magnolia, Paul Thomas Anderson’s casual announcement that he “wanted to make an Adam Sandler movie” was greeted with a fair amount of scepticism.

Was he joking? Well, no, he wasn’t, and although anyone expecting either “an Adam Sandler movie” or, for want of a better phrase “a Paul Thomas Anderson film” is probably going to be a little disappointed, this is still an enjoyable, disarmingly charming film.

In fact, Anderson has made an Adam Sandler movie, in that he’s taken the usual Sandler comedy persona (child-like idiot frequently given to outbursts of intense rage) and turned it into something recognisably human.

Sandler In Excellent Performance Shock

Sandler plays Barry Egan, the manager of a company that manufactures novelty “unbreakable” toilet plungers. He’s the only male in a family with seven sisters – as a result he’s shy and somewhat put-upon, except when his anger surfaces.

There’s no real plot to speak of. Egan meets his “dream girl”, Lena (Emily Watson, looking, well, dream-like), who appears to fall instantly in love with him. At the same time, he finds himself getting scammed by a phone-sex company (run by Philip Seymour Hoffman) while also coming up with a genius scheme for collecting a tonne of free air-miles, involving the purchase of a boat-load of cheap pudding…

The biggest surprise of the film is Sandler’s performance – he completely strips away the aggressive idiocy of his comedy roles and reveals a huge amount of sadness. (Chicago’s famed critic Roger ‘One Thumb Up’ Ebert has, in fact, used Punch-Drunk Love to reassess Sandler’s entire cinematic oeuvre, though this may be going too far). We understand his anger because we can see the underlying frustration that leads to it.

Strange Family Casting

Emily Watson is wonderful, too. It’s never really explained what she sees in Sandler but it’s part of the film’s charm that you never question it. She just seems to know… There’s also great support from Anderson regulars Philip Seymour Hoffman and Luis Guzman, as well as an interesting approach to family casting – four of Sandler’s ‘sisters’ really are related and the four blonde Mormon goon-brothers really are brothers.

The film is distinctive in many ways. Firstly it uses unusually bright, colourful colours to great effect – particularly in the wardrobe of the two leads, with Sandler’s powder blue suits contrasting nicely with Watson’s rich reds and pinks.

The same colours recur in the ‘fade-outs’ between scenes. Similarly, as with Anderson’s previous films, the soundtrack is superb and features a number of eclectic tracks.

Off The Wall Moments

The film also has a number of unusual, off-the-wall scenes. One, in particular, has Egan besieged on all sides, by his sisters, his co-workers, Watson and the sex-line people on the phone, all to the strains of a highly irritating repetitive note on the soundtrack. The effect is to cause unease (like the firecracker scene in Boogie Nights) and your reaction to the scene is likely to dictate your reaction to the film itself, as it has already caused walkouts in the States.

However, if you stick around, there are plenty of rewards, such as the sight of Sandler doing a little self-congratulatory dance in the aisles of a supermarket or his final, hilarious confrontation with Hoffman.

In short, it’s fair to say that Punch-Drunk Love won’t appeal to everyone and may even alienate fans of either Sandler or Anderson’s previous films. However, it’s an oddly moving, surprisingly charming film that you’ll find yourself thinking about months after you see it. Recommended.

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Content updated: 26/04/2018 21:53

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