Romantic drama with an edge
Paul Thomas Anderson
Review by Angus Luff
Punch-Drunk Love is a 2002 romantic drama written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Barry Egan (Adam Sandler) is a lonely, frustrated, self-loathing man who lives by himself. When he meets the mysterious Lena (Emily Watson), he falls in love with her, but while he starts to open up his complex feelings and emotional problems to those around him, he must deal with a scam phone-sex line led by Dean Trumbell (Phillip Seymor Hoffman) as they harass Barry and attempt to rob him.
A bizarre turn from Anderson at the time of its release, Punch-Drunk Love is a uniquely stylized romance that seems to deviate from Anderson’s previous longer, denser and slightly more prestigious films. Punch-Drunk Love is a film built around feeling and atmosphere rather than plot, which will put off some and entice others. I find the film endlessly fascinating, captivating and exceptional. Anderson weaves together a tone through beautiful cinematography, haunting music and creative choices that feel so singular yet also so broad. The film constantly feels like it’s hitting an emotional experience that is unique and unexplainable but also universal. The film feels so alive with its emotions of frustration, confusion, anger and pure, unapologetic love and caring for another. The blue and red lens flares spilling into the frame help emphasize and complement scenes of romance and passion, as Jon Brion’s endlessly enchanting score perfectly reflects the ideas and themes the film presents. The film has such a lush, deep emotional texture that you can cut it with a knife. I love films that capture such a unique and profound image or tone in their storytelling; it’s no surprise this film hits me the way it does.
The film can also change tone on a whim, becoming romantic and whimsical, then anxiety inducing. This tone shift feels reflective of the main character Barry Egan, who runs the gamut of emotions – happiness, confusion, anger, sadness – in a short amount of time. Barry feels so alive and relatable because there’ve been times when we’ve all felt confused and radical in similar stressful situations; in Barry’s case, it’s a run-in with his belittling older sisters or a scam phone-call company stealing his money. He represents the point when we just break away from rational thought and start running through every possible bad scenario that can happen at a given moment. Adam Sandler plays this role amazingly, as he nails the characteristics of a man who is uncomfortable with who he is and how he acts. He changes his walk and manner, it seems, around different people, he fumbles his words and butchers his thoughts. Sandler, along with Anderson, makes great strides in making this unique and unconventional lead character feel sympathetic, relatable and real. The film has incredible aesthetics that help drive the compelling character and romance, but without a strong performance from Sandler to sell his insecurities, freak-outs and alienation, the film would not be as successful as it is.
Punch-Drunk Love is a film that creates an experience so unlike anything else, yet its emotions feel so relatable and genuine that it’s impossible not to get invested in the story being told. The cinematography and art style are so purposeful and alive that it can bend around any scene or event happening in the film and still feel appropriate. Sandler’s performance goes down as one of the best of the last 30 years. And somehow Anderson crafts all these pieces together in such a way that feels perfect in a way no other movie does. All its otherwise unrelated elements come together to feel unified and complete, like the love that Barry Egan develops from such a dark place. It all somehow comes together and, even if it seems unlikely or unpredictable, the feeling still soars.
Running time: 1 hour 35 mins
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Angus Luff is a student at Glebe Collegiate. He grew up in the Glebe and is obsessed with movies.