If one hundred people were to go back through and choose any title out of Paul Thomas Anderson’s filmography to review, you’d probably see a surplus of There Will Be Blood, The Master or Magnolia…Rightfully so, as those are definitely the most renowned and celebrated films of his to date. However, in my own self-assigned rediscovery of his work, there is one film that stood out to me the most. It was Punch Drunk Love starring Adam Sandler. A film filled with personality, melancholy, innocence, laughs, cringes and what might be my favorite film score of all time. *A chef’s kiss to the music*
I had never seen it before. So it definitely had the advantage of recency bias over other films of PTA’s. On top of that, Adam Sandler is a comedic icon and inspiration, so him paired up with one of the best directors of this generation has got to be an absolute hitter. I was honestly angry with myself that I hadn’t seen it yet.
There’s something about this film that makes it stand out. I don’t know if it’s the times we’re in, or the fact that I can relate to the character more than I can relate to an early 1900s oil man or a post war cult leader.
Punch Drunk follows the story of Barry Egan (Adam Sandler), an entrepreneur and a man with virtually no game with women. I think he suffers from some form of social anxiety and anger issues, but it’s never fully addressed. However, he’s prone to strange violent outbursts and an obscure social interactivity that he can’t seem to shake, ESPECIALLY with the ladies. On top of all of that, it doesn’t seem he has anyone in which he absolutely trusts in his personal life. His family “unit” is pretty much comprised of him and a multitude of gossiping sisters. If you can make a guess… he’s lonely. A feeling a lot of us might be able to relate to after months of quarantine.
Barry is lonely enough to call a late night porn line. And you realize it’s really bad when he’s not even doing that for arousal, rather it’s just to talk to somebody. It’s a decision that proves less than helpful in the future and makes you question the character. You get the feeling that he’s operating and seeing the world in a much different way than everyone else. It’s an overall innocence that you can relate to but you don’t know if it’s a result of mental illness. You root for him nonetheless because he’s someone who isn’t afraid to take some wild swings.
And he keeps busy. Occupying his mind with obscure business schemes and tactics. We meet him spending all hours inside his business’ garage. They sell novelty plungers while Barry racks up frequent flyer miles at an unfair rate due to a marketing mishap by a pudding company. The character’s absurdity weirdly grounds him in realism and humanity, where you find yourself hoping that someone like Barry can come out on top. Find love, frequent flyer miles and maybe get some crooked identity thieves off his back. All praise to Phillip Seymour Hoffman.
If you’ve ever watched a Paul Thomas Anderson film, you’re aware of the undeniable feeling that I call a “PTA” vibe. It’s on a level in which you would say any given Tarantino film feels distinctly like a Tarantino film, or a Scorsese film feels distinctly like a Scorsese film. It’s undeniable, it’s a mix of writing, cinematography, directing, editing and music that is unequivocally their craft and it’s impossible to quite put your finger on it. But you can try. And this film has it.
Amongst the rest of the abstract, unique and multi layered stories that PTA brings to the table, Punch Drunk Love does not hit the two-hour mark and keep going like most of his other films. Cutting off at a very tight hour and half and abandoning the large ensemble aspect of previous and eventual films, I walk away from it feeling like it’s the perfect little flick. There’s a lightness to it that feels different from his other films, but the darker emotional things that we’ve come to expect from PTA also juxtapose this.
To be very artsy about it, there’s a theme of juxtaposition all throughout the film. You can find it in the dialogue and how we constantly see Barry have to juggle between situations of great severity within life moments that should be carefree. It’s crazy, it’s strange and it’s unpredictable. It’s a film with a guy in the center, and the world is swirling around him, and that’s the most PTA thing there is.
There’s an aspect of relation that I get with this film, especially in moments dealing with the hopeless romantic trope. Which, I barely can get into because there was so much to unpack about the Barry Egan character. But I must say, Emily Watson does a great job as Lena Leonard, the woman that Barry’s sisters are trying to set him up with. She’s someone who is open to all of Barry’s quirks and is willing to take him for what he is and not what others say he is. But is Barry confident enough to allow himself to be open and make that leap? Because Barry, in all reality can’t seem to make a move to save his life.
VERDICT 4.5 out of 5
I like just about everything in this film. I’m not usually a romance guy, but it’s the perfect mix of comedy, drama and obscurity that I love. There’s a huge silent movie influence and it’s a great looking film to this day. The abstract and unexpected storylines and hijinks coupled with the invasive music score are, once again, perfect. Reminding me just how powerful music can be in creating emotion.
Adam Sandler kills this role. The character has an interesting psyche to take on and it really shows Sandler’s range. It makes the craze around his performance in Uncut Gems less surprising and more expected. Sandler has always had it and PTA has known it. He’s a known fan of his comedy.
I was once mad at myself for not having seen it, but maybe it was meant to hit me at this time. Punch Drunk Love feels so original, honest and its lack of complexity is great. I feel it’s a perfect movie to watch if you’re still trapped at home. I can’t recommend it enough.