Behaving in a bewildered, confused, or dazed manner.
You can't blame Barry Egan (Adam Sandler) for possessing this characteristic.
Still in the process of jump-starting his own business of creating
and selling specialized bathroom items, Barry is a lonely, single
thirtysomething whose usual meekness is offset with sudden explosions
of rage. No matter how hard he tries, he cannot escape the wrath of
seven overbearing, annoying sisters who claim they only want to help
him, but consistently set out to make his life a living hell. When
Lena (Emily Watson) walks into his life and quickly makes it clear
that she is interested in starting a relationship with him, Barry
almost can't believe or comprehend it. It is very likely he has never
had a girlfriend before, and the prospect of finally getting one leaves
him simultaneously elated, excited, and stupefied.
"Punch-Drunk Love" is the unusual and hypnotic new film from director
Paul Thomas Anderson. From the filmmaker who last brought audiences
a pair of epic character dramas (1997's "Boogie Nights" and 1999's
"Magnolia"), his latest is a sizable departure for him in terms of
tone and length, but not in style. All of Anderson's signatures make
a return, including his talent of incorporating mesmerizing musical
selections to scenes and a preference for dizzying, unbroken shots
over attention-deprived MTV-style editing.
On the flipside, Anderson's previous oeuvre has leaned toward the
darker corners of human emotion, while "Punch-Drunk Love" aspires
to be a magical romantic comedy, albeit one of the most oddball and
offbeat entries the genre has ever had. And whereas "Boogie Nights"
was just under three hours and "Magnolia" was just over three hours,
"Punch-Drunk Love" registers at a to-the-point 89 minutes.
The results of Paul Thomas Anderson's fresh attempt are flawed, and
not nearly the masterpieces that his previous pictures have been,
but still far superior to the majority of today's mainstream moviemaking.
The opening ten minutes are astonishing and perplexing in equal measure,
perhaps too much so because the film rarely reaches those lofty heights
again. Finishing up a phone conversation at the warehouse his business
is set in, Barry walks out into the morning sunlight of a peaceful
Los Angeles, only to witness a violent car crash, followed by a van
that mysteriously drops off a small piano in the road and zooms off.
Until Lena arrives to drop off her car at the auto repair shop next
door and comments on it, Barry doesn't even know if the piano is real
or just a figment of his imagination.
Intercut between the tender romance between Barry and Lena is a creepy
subplot that begins when Barry, in need of having a conversation with
someone, innocently enough calls a sex phone hotline. After giving
out his credit card number, address, and phone number, he is taunted
by the woman on the other end of the line who demands he either give
her $750 or face the consequences. There is also another subplot,
this one based on a true story, in which Barry finds a glitch in a
sales gimmick from Healthy Choice foods, in which buying $3000 worth
of snack pack pudding will give him a lifetime supply of frequent flyer miles.
"Punch-Drunk Love" is being touted as the first film in which comedic
actor Adam Sandler (2002's "Mr. Deeds") gets to show his serious side,
and this is somewhat accurate. In many ways, Sandler's Barry Egan
is similar to his previous screen personas, in that he is playing
a childlike man with anger management issues. While this character
trait has been played for laughs up until now, it is treated reasonably
serious here. In doing this, Sandler has created a three-dimensional
person whose anxieties in life are surprisingly touching. This is
a satisfying performance from Sandler, not necessarily better than
the one he gave in 1998's "The Wedding Singer" (his best film), but
certainly the one where he exhibits the most range.
Pairing Adam Sandler with respected actress Emily Watson (2002's "Red
Dragon") was a novel idea. Watson is lovely as the understanding Lena,
but her character is sadly underdeveloped. Very little is learned
about Lena or her actions, including her instant attraction to Barry,
but Sandler and Watson still make charismatic romantic counterparts.
Had Paul Thomas Anderson strengthened the writing of Lena, he undoubtedly
would have had another remarkable and bold cinematic achievement.
"Punch-Drunk Love" is certainly bold, and not for Sandler's preteen
fans, but Anderson has neglected certain essential elements in his
screenplay simply to come in at a promised 90 minutes.
With that said, "Punch-Drunk Love" is endlessly fascinating and original.
The character study of Barry is carried out with precision and care,
the treatment of his annoying sisters and their indelible impact on
him strikes a resonant chord, and the romance between he and Lena
is a magical one that avoids cliches. One scene, set to the tune of
Shelley Duvall's "He Loves Me," is incendiary, as are the moments
when Brion James' intrusively brilliant score kicks in. "Punch-Drunk
Love" has elements of sheer brilliance, others of definite intrigue,
and some that are disappointingly undernourished. When stirred together
under the masterful helm of Paul Thomas Anderson, it is a mixture
that deserves to be seen.
Copyright © 2002 Dustin Putman