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on December 18, 2002
On Saturday, I saw one of the most obscure, bizarre, different and ultimately conventional and rewarding films, and I have to recommend it to all of you.
It's the Adam Sandler-Paul Thomas Anderson movie, PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE.
Usually, with Adam Sandler, I'm on the fence. I remember him from when he was on REMOTE CONTROL when I was 12. I remember him when he started on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, and I loved his skit there called THE DENISE SHOW, where a dumped, depressed guy uses a cable access program as an excuse to stalk his ex-girlfriend. P.T. Anderson, I noticed from interviews, remembered Sandler from THE DENISE SHOW, too, and made this movie with the complexities and sadness that character in mind.
All the rage (not range) that Sandler showed in films like THE WEDDING SINGER, which at times was smart and good, or THE WATERBOY, which at times was dumb and good, is on display in PUNCH-DRUNK, but Sandler's character, Barry Egan, is more awkward than goofy. He's shy, damaged, browbeaten. In his words, he "doesn't like himself very much sometimes."
In the role, Sandler's able to maintain his character's oddness, manic temper (complete with fits of violence) and essential goodness, generating sympathy and care even when he does things like call a phone-sex line or destroy a restaurant bathroom.
As I've watched more Paul Thomas Anderson films in an attempt to better understand them (for MAGNOLIA frequently left me baffled and confused), I've come to appreciate some recurring elements: twists of fate that inject magic into everyday life, characters that exist only to forgive and love the damaged characters and random, off-the-wall dialogue and plot twists.
PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE has these. Its hokiness, for it is a somewhat-formula romantic comedy, is redeemed by these elements.
Lena Leonard, played by Emily Watson, is the character whose sole purpose in the film is to unconditionally love Barry Egan. The character isn't as clearly defined or quirky as Sandler's because she exists for a sole purpose, to save Egan from himself, to teach him how to hold relationships with others, to trust others, because she almost instinctively understands that he's been hurt a lot and hasn't really deserved it.
The arrival of Leonard in Barry's life coincides with the arrival, as well, of a harmonium on his doorstep. The harmonium, one of those air-organ type instruments, shows up by complete chance, and its arrival, strangely, initially frightens Barry. Yet, as he comes to accept it and learns how to play it, everything else in Barry's life comes into order.
I loved this movie so much that I wanted to give it a hug. It's not laugh-out-loud funny. It probably won't appeal to a lot of people. Some people may find it too off-the-wall. Others may just not get it.
But I embrace any film that understands its themes clearly, knows what it's trying to say and says just that. I don't even mind a happy ending if a film earns it.
Through accepting that goodness and magic does occur in the world and that the world isn't all hurt, Barry Egan is able to accept that there is goodness inside him and that he deserves love.
I thought that was pretty great.
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on October 21, 2002
This movie was, in two words, entirely unique.
They're promoting it as a 'romantic comedy' -- because there's no category called 'psychotic affair with undertones of love and violent outbursts'.
Much like Magnolia (the director's previous film), this is unlike any film you've ever seen.
Adam Sandler does an excellent job of playing an unremarkable plunger salesman -- Barry Egan. There is nothing special about this guy. He has the odd phobia, and is a little paranoid and superstitious, but is generally an all-around nice guy... if a little temperamental. An average American.
He is also painfully lonely; so much so, in fact, that one day he calls a 1-800 sex line just so he can talk to someone...
The soundtrack & audio in the film are integral to the experience of it, which is completely unnerving.
It definitely arouses feelings in the audience -- mostly of unease, and awkwardness... and I laughed many times because of the absurdity of the situations -- all of which were completely intentional on the director's part (Paul Thomas Anderson).
Amazing, unique film.
It is NOT what you're expecting... no matter what.
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on January 5, 2003
The first half of Paul Thomas Anderson's new film, "Punch-Drunk Love," is one of the most unsettling experiences I've had in a movie theater in some time.
Within the opening minutes, Barry Egan, the character played by Adam Sandler, witnesses a horrific accident, in which a car spins over and comes apart, has a taxivan screech to a halt while an unseen passenger drops a harmonium onto the street in front of him, and then, while he is rescuing said harmonium from the street, is almost killed by a speeding 18-wheeler. Is it any surprise that he dashes into the warehouse where he works and peers out at the world in terror?
"Punch Drunk Love" has been described as a "strange romantic comedy," as "quirky" and "eccentric." In truth, the comedy is pitch-black and the romance is as dysfunctional as in any of Anderson's movie. It's a barely lightened version of the romance between John C. Reilly and Melora Walters in "Magnolia." We see how crippled Sandler's character is, but only get hints of the traumas suffered by Emily Watson, as his counterpart, the strongest of which is that she falls for him.
Sandler's Egan is such an emotional cripple that he stumbles through the world as if he is mentally challenged. This is not standard issue "Little Nicky". This is "The Waterboy" as lensed by Hitchcock, and just as horrifying. Anderson builds the tension in Egan's day, so that when he finally has an outburst at his sister's birthday party, after a scene that is emotionally nerve-wracking, we are grateful for the release. That this release is followed by uncontrolled weeping, all of which is played completely straight, both deepens our understanding of Egan and reassures our trust in the director and his star.
The movie is indeed funny at times, but for all its laughs, much of the time it plays as a horror film, in the tradition of "Eraserhead." Though far more realistic in treatment, Barry Egan is a direct descendant of Henry Spencer, stumbling through a world he can barely comprehend and paying the price for every transgression. Anderson plays on our fears about family and sex, and when Egan calls a 900 number, more for company than sex (he doesn't realize he should be masturbating), it turns into his worst nightmare. The movie ends on what should be a positive note, but it's so desperate that it's hard to feel good.
Despite the reviews the movie is not an Art House film, any more than Clint Eastwood's "Unforgiven" is an Art House film. It is a genre picture that steps out of the genre, intelligent, creative and confident - in other words, something apart from standard Hollywood fare. Anderson uses music, light and sound much more to his advantage than many directors, creating an emotional context that helps support his story. His use of color and light is particularly effective, as when a pay phone suddenly glows when a call is connected, or when the lovers kiss in silhouette while a parade of strangers pass behind them.
This is a Paul Thomas Anderson movie starring Adam Sandler, not an Adam Sandler movie directed by P.T. Anderson. As in many of his films, Sandler explodes in fits of violence. Unlike his other films, the violence doesn't seem choreographed. In one scene, he "beats up a bathroom," and it looks like we're watching outtakes: things don't break or they break too easily, there's no build, there's no catharsis. We don't feel better after Sandler's explosions, we feel unnerved. Sandler literally runs through much of the movie, but there's nothing freeing about it. There is one moment of simple joy, when Egan dances an impromptu soft-shoe in a supermarket. It's the only time he seems at all comfortable in his own skin. This movie is Adam Sandler's "Phantom of the Opera." He pulls off the mask and shows the horror beneath. And that makes him the most sympathetic he's ever been.
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on March 25, 2008
Paul Thomas Anderson is either hit or miss with me. I liked Hard Eight, I loved Boogie Nights, but I really thought he lost his way with Magnolia. That isn't to say I can't recognize that he is immensely talented and I'm looking forward to seeing his latest film There Will Be Blood. Punch-Drunk Love is a smaller movie about Barry Egan, a business owner who sells novelty items such as stylized toilet plungers. Everything about Barry Egan permeates with a kind of frustrating sadness. His seven older sisters constantly insult him and his life is consistently portrayed as minimalist and disassociated. He is a profoundly lonely man. His bizarre social behavior is awkward but at times spirals into both perversion as well as intensely violent fits of rage. All the while, he is portrayed as the film's protagonist. Anderson is especially delicate in making us understand his eccentricities as justifiable survival mechanisms within the paradigm of his uncomfortable past and nearly pathetic current life. Anderson is careful not to mock or exploit Egan for his faults.

Who could play such a unique and intriguing character? I have to admit, I'm a big fan of Adam Sandler's early comedies. Especially Billy Madison and I don't care who knows about it. I love the silly and stupid humor of Adam Sandler and I firmly believe it is what put him on the map. But he was just a character in those early films and besides those films really are just a series of comedy sketches. It would've made more sense if Billy Madison were placed into a CGI world, a cartoon, or a comic book in the first place. He continued to be silly all along but his characters always carried this dark side that wasn't easy to pinpoint among the poop jokes and slap-stick. He was almost like Adam West's Batman was in the old television show and how we see Batman now in Christopher Nolan's Batman movies is how we see Adam Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love. It is as if Billy Madison or Happy Gilmore were snatched away from the unrealistic comedic worlds of those respective films and aggressively forced to exist in the real world, where every scene isn't necessarily working toward a punch-line. Although, much of Barry Egan's behavior in the real world is, at least on the surface, not unlike the behavior of Madison and Gilmore.

The most amazing thing about the whole Sandler dynamic is that he can really act. He stands toe-to-toe with Phillip Seymour Hoffman (an Anderson regular who happens to be an amazing actor) in my favorite scene of the movie, where these two angry idiots just scream back and forth at each other over the phone. The scene makes their later encounter in person an amazing confrontation. Every single scene Sandler is in we tend to feel for the people around him. Knowing what his temper is capable of made me uncomfortable for the people who surround him but especially uncomfortable for Egan himself, who seemingly can't settle into his own skin. He does seem to find some comfort around Lena (Emily Watson), whose relationship with Barry is really what the film is intent on seeing through.

Punch-Drunk Love has a great style. Anderson has a way of making ordinary scenes memorable and important scenes extraordinary. He is a also a great writer and makes even the smallest characters as strong as his leads. The soundtrack is of course the perfect fit as well. In the end and most important of all, Anderson tries hard to allow us the pleasure of watching Barry Egan bring some kind of comfort into his troubled life and I for one was surprised to enjoy it as much as I did.
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VINE VOICEon November 20, 2002
Paul Thomas Anderson doesn't make ordinary films. And three cheers for that. Magnolia was extraordinary, so was Boogie Nights. And now Punch-Drunk Love brings us Adam Sandler in the full flower of his talent; even the over-rated Emily Watson turns in a fine, understated performance. The casting alone in this film is inspired; the cinematography is exceptional; the production design is perfectly attuned to the script and the characters. Even the soundtrack (including a wonderfully appropriate tune sung by, of all people, Shelley Duvall) is a delight.
There are legions of angry people around. Sandler's character (deluged with seven nutso sisters) inverts his anger and vents it on windows, mirrors and public bathrooms. When love enters his life via Emily Watson, that anger serves a useful, alarming purpose.
The movie abounds in madly appealing concepts, particularly the pudding purchases. The opening crash sequence, the depositing of a piano on the street from a passing taxi as the car crash occurs, Sandler's getting lost in endless hallways trying to find Watson's apartment--it's a visual banquet, complimented by Wurlitzer-like color bars that shimmy across the screen under various sound strips--this is signature Anderson material. But it's Sandler's turn to shine as a man who is freed in remarkable ways by love. His performance is contained, muted, and completely sympathetic, even when he's at his craziest or his most relentlessly, painfully polite. It's a tour de force performance, ably assisted by the always reliable Luiz Guzman.
For those who love film and like to see the boundaries get stretched, Punch-Drunk Love is a must-see. It's innovative, wildly imaginative, funny, sad and, ultimately, rewarding.
My highest recommendation.
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on May 30, 2003
As I read these bad reviews of this movie, I realize how lazy some film-watchers are these days. Living in a generation that grew up watching movies, I would think that by now people would want to see movies that challenge them a little, and not simply spoon-feed them their entertainment. I understand that people go to the movies for the simple reason of being entertained, but how long can the same old movie formulas entertain you?
It's refreshing to me to see directors like P.T. Anderson make movies because they feel passionate about the story they want to tell, not because they want it to fit into a neat, rehashed package to sell to a braindead audience. There are beautiful images and ideas in this movie that take you on an emotional ride for 90 minutes. The fact that Mr. Anderson makes a movie like this with his heart, knowing it won't make as much money as your average Adam Sandler movie, is reason enough to give it a try. But above all, Punch Drunk Love is an original movie, which is something we don't see enough of these days.
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on April 20, 2003
From its startling opening which fuses comedy, pity, and shocking violence, "Punch-Drunk Love" keeps you uncomfortably off-balance for all 95 minutes. How refreshing. How refreshing, too, that although this is a story about the redemptive power of love it never degenerates into mawkishness; and although the situations it puts them in are faintly ludicrous, the characters are painfully real. This is such a pleasant change for romantic comedy and, amazingly, it's Adam Sandler who holds it all together. It's an inspired piece of casting because Sandler brings with him all the baggage of his previous on-screen inanity - he has your expectations heading in one direction while writer/director Anderson's clever little screenplay quietly takes you in another. It's a weird ride, but one that's utterly mesmerizing.
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on October 21, 2002
Yknow the best thing about this movie? It's under 2 hours long. Seems a weird thing to say about a film that you enjoyed every single minute of, but in an era when Carrot Top seems barely able to make a filmic statement in less than 2 and a half hours, it's nice to see someone make a film that's so entertaining, so intellectually stimulating without making your backside fall asleep from remaining in one place so long. This, of course, is not the chief reason to love this film. That would be the teaming of Anderson and Sandler (not to diminish any of the great supporting performances). Anderson probes into the darkside of Sandler's nice chucklehead persona without getting overbearing about it. And Sandler stretches without completely abandoning his original shtick. I don't get people who say this is a 180 degree turn for Sandler. It's really just a natural extension, brought to light be a director accomplished enough to handle him. As for Anderson, this time he works on a canvas much smaller than in Boogie Nights and Magnolia, and proves himself to be an expert miniaturist. Never has a story of an essentially alright guy who struggles daily to not go essentially postal been more timely. Punch-Drunk Love is a phenomenal piece of art about modern living and the power that love has over it.
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on July 11, 2003
I loved this 95-minute "exploration" about a "man-child" who finds "intoxicating" love for the first time.
What happens if you're a boy (Adam Sandler) - in a man's body - with no confidence? Sandler plays Barry Egan. He hates himself, he feels like a loser and he doesn't know why. He cries for no reason. His heart is big, his seven sisters love him, but they make fun of him. No one understands him.
Of course they don't. He smashes window and walls, tears up a rest room and stocks up on pudding to cash in on a marketing promotion flaw. Is he also a wacko?
But then a miracle. He meets a courageous and perhaps foolish girl who likes the very things he hates about himself. Love makes him so powerful, his life suddenly has a purpose. It's like winning the lottery.
This is about the only thing "simple" about the so-called "storyline" of Paul Thomas Anderson's "Punch-Drunk Love," a film I found bizarre and sweet - perhaps too artsy for its own good - yet oddly uplifting and satisfying.
When Sandler's Barry Egan says Emily Watson's character is so pretty that he wants to "smash her face with a sledgehammer," it sounds better in the movie than on paper. It's funny and it works. If you're a child, it impossible to find the "right words" to express the intensity of "punch-drunk love."
I don't blame people who hated this film. It would be snobby to say some people "just won't get it." There's no point lying. "Punch-Drunk Love" is a film that requires properly managed expectations. Part of the problem (and genius) is Anderson's decision to cast Adam Sandler himself. Sandler is a good actor here, but he doesn't do anything spectacular. The best way to avoid feeling cheated is to push everything you know about Sandler out of your mind. Pretend you're seeing him for the first time. Sandler has teased his violent persona in previous over-the-top comedies, but in "Punch-Drunk Love," writer-director Anderson has channeled this tortured "self-hatred" act into something that isn't supposed to be funny. He explores what might happen - if such a person fell in love - for the FIRST time.
Equally maddening to some, Anderson doesn't use conventional words and images to "articulate" the mysteries of love. He makes us see everything through the eyes of a loser who's never experienced them. We see splashes of color and hear "high-as-a-kite" music that mirrors his euphoria. Anderson doesn't spell everything out in deep dialogue, because in real relationships, we don't talk about everything. Words come close, but they're rarely "dead-on" about what we're really feeling.
"Punch-Drunk Love" works best as a "what if?" romance involving a man who's emotionally stunted. I don't know if a woman like Emily Watson's character exists. I don't demand to know why she chases Sandler because I feel I'm watching everything through the eyes of Sandler's Barry Egan. This is a story about the boy, not the girl. Watson appears so radiant to Sandler's character that he feels she's looking right through him, making things easier. This is all that matters to him.
P. T. Anderson is always offbeat, but I didn't expect him to be so sadistically charming. Unlike the pessimism of his previous films, this effort brims with optimism, delivering abstract ideas without using a chalkboard.
Emily Watson gets the last line in the film and some people feel short-changed by it (I won't give it away). But to me, it's terrific. It's not a "happily ever after" prediction. Instead, it's an open-ended, three-word expression of hope, acknowledging obstacles ahead without listing 'em. It comes closer to the giddy feelings mirroring the complexities of love as we really know them, without getting gushy. Why do we "love" at all? Is it necessary? "Punch-Drunk Love" is an American original. Calling it a "romantic-comedy" is very misleading.
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on February 5, 2006
This is one movie where it seems a lot of people either like it or really hate it. What I find about this film, though, is that the people who hate it do so for the wrong reasons (or at least they can't articulate why, but I have a theory). Here are some of the complaints:

*"It is boring" - Since when did loud, fast and outrageous become associated with boring? I don't care how slow something is. If it is different, innovative, and interesting, it is not boring. Your standard Michael Bay film is boring - this film is not.

*"The background of the characters was not fleshed out." We hear Eagan's life story, get to meet his seven sisters, hear all his hopes and fears as admitted to his brother-in-law, and go through every neurotic detail of his life. The only way to this character could possibly be fleshed out more is if we saw him going to the bathroom.

*"Bad acting." What these people are really saying is that they miss the low-brow roles traditionally played by Sandler (not that those roles aren't funny). Critics gave good reviews to Sandler's depth and Watson's portrayal. Sorry, but I put more faith in Ebert's evaluation of good acting than I do your typical fan of 50-cent movies or "Dukes of Hazzard."

*"The plot is rather predictable" - I defy anyone to predict what would have happened two scenes after watching a scene. "Armageddon" and "Independence Day" are predictable - this film is not.

If you like formula, then avoid this movie. If you want to see something interesting, innovative, and sometimes funny, this movie is for you.
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