Punch Drunk Love

Rated: R
Stars:   Adam Sandler, Emily Watson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Luis Guzman, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Lisa Spector
Director:    Paul Thomas Anderson
Screenwriters:    Paul Thomas Anderson

Paul Thomas Anderson won the best director award at the Cannes Film Festival for this. My immediate reaction is that they must not have shown any other pictures at the time. Alternately, it’s possible that all the judges were bribed. I could go on, but you catch my drift.

Punch-Drunk Loveis a very simple love story, albeit one surrounded by bizarre elements. It’s what many people might describe as “quirky”. A quirky film would usually involve strange characters doing strange things, weird story, odd circumstances and the like. Quirky can be good or bad. It all depends on how the many elements flow. This film’s flow is disrupted by Anderson-isms: brain-pounding effects (loud, dissonant bangs and clangs score) and sometimes exhaustively irritating music (such as Shelly Duvall singing “He Needs me” from the Popeye soundtrack), the occasional shot that makes no sense and doesn’t move the story forward (a car crash in the opening sequence), washed out cinematography (throughout), and lots of cutesy editing techniques (e.g. peephole effect) reminiscent of a 1950’s comedy that doesn’t hold water today. So what we have here is a film that’s quirky-jerky. A few things work but the overall effect is actually tedious and bland.

Adam Sandler plays Barry Egan, a shy loser who owns a small business making decorative toilet plungers. He seems to have suffered from the tribulations of having seven loud and demanding sisters in his life. So it’s no wonder that poor Barry doesn’t spend a lot of time trying to develop relationships with women. He’s lonely, frustrated and admits to crying a lot for no reason. In fact, Barry’s a ball of fire ready to explode without warning.

After he resorts to a phone-sex line for companionship, he’s blackmailed when the woman steals his credit card number.

At the same time, his luck changes when a friend (Emily Watson as Lena Leonard) of one sister takes an interest in him and romance blooms. The kicker is when Barry finds a loophole in a contest promotion that allows him to earn a million free frequent-flyer miles by purchasing $3,000 of pudding. Romance, pudding and blackmail. As I said, quirky.

Lotta says: Adam Sandler’s poor schmuck character is measured well and he does a decent job with it for what it is – largely bland. Poor Emily Watson, she went from making love to the “Red Dragon” in the film Red Dragon to bussing Adam Sandler here. Even though there’s not much in way of character development for her, she’s enormously charismatic and always a delight to watch. The film simply left me cool. It wasn’t horrible, but it was far less than anything special.

Reviewed: October 18, 2002