Punch-Drunk Love Movie Review

Most wouldn't put Paul Thomas Anderson and the genre of romantic comedy in the same room and expect them to work together well. The director of Magnolia and Boogie Nights tends to shy from the formulaic filmmaking inherent in warming the hearts of couples, and that's certainly not the purpose of Punch-Drunk Love. The problem is defining just exactly what that purpose is to begin with.

The estimable Emily Watson plays Lena Leonard, Barry Egan's (Adam Sandler) ultimate dream woman. In fact, she's everyone's vision of virtue in her ability to ignore or simply not care about whatever foolish stunt Barry pulls. Perhaps, as the heavy-laid music at one point suggests, the very attraction is that she is so normal while he is such a buffoon. Once you get over the idea that love at first sight with two eclectic characters would be cute, something has to provoke you to root for the cause, and whatever that could have been never happens.

There may be a certain boost to one's ego to share conjugal bliss with someone beneath your intellect and maturity, but this is not established and a great deal to have to assume, if that's even a relevant theory. That a woman who seems to have her head straight and feet on the ground would want, even actively pursue, such a childlike significant other is just too much to swallow. Sure, it's amusing that they use violent barbs to begin foreplay, but that doesn't make you care if they ride off into the sunset or not.

As the central motivating plot line goes unsupported, interest wanes even further over subplots that could each have been worthy but only end up becoming stressful side dishes to make Punch a cluttered mess. Barry's clan of sisters is effectively annoying but serves only to repetitively pester the audience rather than truly impede Barry's progress. The long-distance argument with phone sex line owner Dean Trumbell (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is the real missed opportunity. If there were any point to be made about Barry's character, or a signpost for his growth as a result of the experience that will assist his relationship with Lena, it would have been through this provocative interaction. Unfortunately, it all ends up as a bunch of yelling.

What Punch does best is to lean on a handful of unexpected quirks, such as Barry selling specialty plungers out of an automobile garage, and two actors trying to expand their repertoire. Sandler trusts the story to have humor enough to not overplay his stupidity and Watson is always a charm to watch onscreen. But the best choice Anderson probably made was keeping in the normal running time confines of the genre by making Punch-Drunk Love a breezy 97 minutes.

Reviewed at the 2002 New York Film Festival.

Anderson's Punch DVD is a typical Anderson affair, a cryptic two-disc set with a pile of extras that are just as alternately engaging and confusing as the film itself. An insert booklet encourages you to "enjoy all supplemental features in random order" -- including deleted scenes and what I can only describe as a short film including original and in-film footage -- while "turning up the contrast" to let Barry's shirt "bloom a bit." In the end it all adds a bit to this quirkily fun but unfortunately, deeply flawed picture.

Punch-drunk kiosk.


Comments

Punch-Drunk Love Rating

" Weak "

Rating: R, 2002

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