Punch Drunk Love


Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Written by:Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Adam Sandler, Emily Watson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Luis Guzman
Released: April 3, 2003
Grade: A

Paul Thomas Anderson is my favourite director.  Period.  There is no one better.  Having become obsessed with his previous two masterpieces, Boogie Nights and Magnolia, the three year wait for Punch Drunk Love has at times felt unbearable.  Anderson, who always writes his own scripts, isn’t just a filmmaker who can tell an amazing story.  He maximises every square inch of the screen to create visuals that distance him from every other director working today.

We begin in the early hours of the morning with Barry Egan (Sandler) arriving at the dingy warehouse from which he runs his own business.  With a small number of ethnic employees, he produces and sells novelty toilet plungers with the foolhardy belief his business is successful.  With his mug of coffee, he walks out onto the deserted dawn street to see a passing car flip out of control and a courier van deliver a harmonia on the sidewalk.  This insane opening shouldn’t be as surprising for those who have learnt the lessons of strange chance and coincidence that Anderson taught us all in Magnolia.

Barry has a shy, awkward demeanour but unexpectedly, a darker side is revealed at a dinner party hosted by his seven sisters.  They jokingly, yet purposely, make fun of Barry and remind him of how they called him “gay boy” as a kid and recall the time he deliberately shattered a window with a hammer.  Before sitting down to the dinner table, Barry explodes in a fit of rage and smashes in a series of glass doors.  This guy has suddenly become more intriguing…

Lonely one night, he calls a phone sex line.  Connected to a 5’8” blonde named Georgia, he is duped into handing over his credit card details, address and telephone number.  The following morning, Barry is contacted by Georgia who threatens to blackmail him if he doesn’t hand over $750.  Barry’s sympathetic but not stupid and hangs up.  Soon, she’s calling him at work and threatening that “you’ve just made a war for yourself which you can’t afford.”

Amid these dramas, Barry meets a girl.  Lena Leonard (Watson) is smitten with Barry and begins a sly campaign to win his affections.  Lena has a passion for travelling and in planning a trip to Hawaii, hopes Barry will come with her.  He’s never had a girlfriend before and is reluctantly tentative towards her invitation.  Struggling financially, he finds a loophole in a marketing campaign where frequent flyer miles are obtained from purchasing certain brands of pudding.  $3,000 worth of pudding would give him over a million miles of free air travel.  Surely then, he’d be able to start travelling with Lena.

It’s an insane multi-layered black comedy that is supported largely by star Adam Sandler.  His character doesn’t fit a cinematic stereotype and he’s fascinating to watch.  For the first time in his lengthy career, he creates a character with depth.  You’re likely to find yourself studying his unusual mannerisms in the hope of understanding him.  The adorably sweet Emily Watson is superb opposite Sandler and wonderful cameos come from Anderson regulars Philip Seymour Hoffman and Luis Guzman.

Punch Drunk Love was a challenge to Anderson in that it’s the exact opposite of what people would expect.  He’s followed the deeply moving three-hour epic which was Magnolia, with a quirky romantic comedy clocking in at just 95 minutes and starring a critically ridiculed actor.  At just 33 years of age, it seems there’s no challenge too daunting or no risk too high.

His distinctive style is wonderfully evident here.  There’s a film score from Jon Brion which mixes classical romance with modern beats and rhythms.  Anderson’s camera is constantly on the move giving an enhanced sense of the surroundings and maintaining the lightening pace.  The lighting and colours of the film are perhaps the most striking aspect – there’s a mix of both light and dark scenes with deliberate flecks of colour finding their way onto the lens.  Visually, it’s the most creative film in recent memory.

If you haven’t had a chance to experience the talent of Paul Thomas Anderson, now’s the opportune time to jump aboard the accelerating bandwagon.  People like Anderson don’t just entertain.  They inspire.