Punch Drunk Love
Paul Thomas Anderson / USA / 2002
Barry Egan (Adam Sandler) runs his own novelty plunger business between being de-balanced by his sisters into psychotic episodes of violence. One morning a harmonium is accidentally deposited outside his warehouse before he not so accidentally meets Lena (Emily Watson). Before Egan and Lena can find happiness, phone sex extortionists and dessert for Air Mile vouchers all play their part.
Insightfully misdirecting us, PT Anderson describes his latest film as an art-house Adam Sandler film. The Sandler persona seen in 'Happy Gilmore', 'The Waterboy' and elsewhere, is now all alone and for real. He's a borderline psychotic overwhelmed by life, labour and siblings. Slipping away from the Altman influenced social dioramas, from a deep Ricky Jay commentary and even from stars showing their sensitive proclivities by humming along to Aimee Mann, is this whimsical doodle on a love story. But don't be deceived; this is Andersons' most challenging and accomplished work to date.
Weighing in at 95 minutes, Punch Drunk Love is considerably shorter than previous Anderson outings, containing genuinely shocking surprises both humorous and disquieting. Superficially this is a love story, complete with gender assigned colours for the leads (Sandler in blue, Watson in pink), a bubbly love theme and psychedelic montages that hint at a Doris Day Woodstock movie. Yet this is also a demented squint at suburban L.A. with moments that occasionally string David Lynch up the nearest tree in the urban unsettlement stakes. Sandler's descent into bestiality from the blows of the extortionists is one of the most disturbing moments I've endured this year.
Constant animation marks this film out, as the restless camera blurs along supermarket aisles or peripheral actions blur around a seminal moment like a lovers clinch. Matching the unrelenting visual nystagmus is a wildly percussive soundtrack that erupts into discord with Sandler's violence and allows the love theme ('He needs me') to emerge from the mental funk. Punch Drunk Love contains a wonderful sense of lyricism and timing, encapsulated by Sandler's dance like protection of Lena from the phone line thugs.
Co-conspirators Luis Guzman and Phillip Seymour Hoffman head to different corners of the intensity room. Hoffman ignites his Anderson fired acting on the spot (overacting but not quite / hyper emotional characters) into a new level of pretension, yet fits the bill well as the abrasive challenge to Sandler's romantic coup d'etat. Sandler overcomes him without violence. Guzman walks away with the laurels by underplaying it to skill levels at least as accomplished as Hoffman's hubris and fury. Sandler manages to flesh out his affable loser, whilst Watson seems very slightly lost. Also watch out for Mary Lynn Rajskub, an increasingly familiar face who has ingrained herself more fully than her cut part in Magnolia.
Punch Drunk Love is worth the admission.