Movie #52: Punch-Drunk Love (2002)


I’m lookin’ at your face and I just wanna smash it.

Barry Egan (Adam Sandler) is a loner with severe rage issues.   He has seven sisters, all of which give him a tremendous amount of crap for being single, oftentimes questioning his heterosexuality and ridiculing him on a constant basis.

Hence the rage issues.

He also meets Lena (Emily Watson), and the two begin an unlikely relationship.  Barry is also being extorted by a mattress store owner who also runs a sex chat line.  He also collects a significant amount of pudding in order to redeem them for airline miles through American Airlines (based on what David Phillips did in real life).

This is now the second time I’ve watched this film.  The first time it was difficult to follow at times, this time around not so much, but I’m still trying to grasp the appeal of this movie.  Paul Thomas Anderson is known for doing things way outside the box, and while this film scored well with critics, it was for all intents and purposes a box-office flop ($17.8 million).  It’s one of those films that gets nominated for awards, Anderson received Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival, but lacks that broad appeal that brings success.

Yes, I get it, it’s an ‘art-house’ film.

That doesn’t mean it’s good.

The film is not without its charms.  The role seems tailor-fit for Sandler, who had a number of hit films playing the man with anger/rage issues.  I’m not sure that anyone else would have been able to fill those shoes.  Emily Watson is a doll in this one.  I haven’t seen her in any other films, but she definitely has acting talent.  Her and Sandler’s odd chemistry is one of the things that kept me interested in this film.  Her vulnerability, specifically right before she leaves for Hawaii, is a refreshingly honest, candid performance.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman was creepy, kind of like every other role he’s had.

The random and severe acts of rage throughout the film got horribly repetitive by the end.  While necessary for the plot, I just got annoyed with it.  The story was also difficult to follow and bouncing around everywhere.  I enjoy layered plots, but this one was so random and constantly shifting that it was more harm than good.

Again, I get that this is an ‘art-house’ film, but the long camera pans, the extended moments of silence, the interludes all could have been dialed back.  A lot.

There is one line in The 501 Must-See Movies book that I strongly disagree with.  “As with Jim Carrey and The Truman Show, Punch-Drunk Love gave Sandler an instant credibility that he’s still tapping today.  Granted, this book was published in 2010, Sandler has definitely cooled off and hasn’t had a good movie since Click, though Just Go With It had its charms.

Punch-Drunk Love tells an interesting, off-the-beaten-path romance, which sets it apart.  However, that great story is lost in Paul Thomas Anderson’s web of art-house film making and a complex, confusing series of sub-plots.  I may be able to watch this again, but it’s not one I’m going to go out of my way to see.

My Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars.


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