Review: Punch-Drunk Love

One could say it resembles punch-drunk love.

Punch-Drunk Love
Photo: Columbia Pictures

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. In Punch-Drunk Love, Paul Thomas Anderson puts Adam Sandler in a blue suit and contemplates what would happen if Jerry Lewis went ape-shit in the San Fernando Valley. (For his trouble, Anderson predictably wowed France, snagging the Best Director prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.) Barry Egan (Sander), a warehouse manager prone to violence, discovers that he can amass a million frequent flyer miles by taking advantage of a loophole in a promotional coupon. Mix in strange acts of fate, an eccentric love interest (Emily Watson channeling Fiona Apple), Jeremy Blake’s digital animations, Healthy Choice pudding four-packs, and stir evenly with Jon Brion’s drop-the-virgin-in-the-volcano tribal drums and Shelley Duvall’s Popeye anthem playing in the background. When Barry makes the mistake of handing over his personal information to a phone sex operator, a group of thugs bossed by a sleazy mattress dealer (Philip Seymour Hoffman) steal the poor sap’s money. If this rote subplot exists solely to incite Barry to anger then Sandler is up to the challenge. The actor acts his id out and Anderson’s camera follows suit; the director’s use of widescreen is effortlessly, almost unconsciously, color-coordinated to fit Barry’s turmoil. Anderson perfectly evokes Barry’s isolation from the world and his family (here, seven shrill sisters, five of whom are married to a group of brothers) while the film’s palette seamlessly turns monochromatic at just the right moments. Though Anderson claims to have been inspired by Hollywood’s Technicolor hey-day, Barry brings to mind Jacques Tati’s Monsieur Hulot while the character’s romantic flights of fancy lovingly evoke dopey silent melodramas. Despite some memorable comedic moments (see Sandler and Watson’s twisted bed scene), Punch-Dunk Love is otherwise loud and graceless, a messy work-in-progress passing itself off as the finished product. One could say it resembles punch-drunk love.

 Cast: Adam Sandler, Emily Watson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Luis Guzmán, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Ashley Clark, Julie Hermelin, James Smooth, Lisa Spector, David Stevens, Nathan Stevens  Director: Paul Thomas Anderson  Screenwriter: Paul Thomas Anderson  Distributor: Columbia Pictures  Running Time: 90 min  Rating: R  Year: 2002  Buy: Video, Soundtrack

Ed Gonzalez

Ed Gonzalez is the co-founder of Slant Magazine. His writing has also appeared in The Village Voice and The Los Angeles Times. He’s a member of the New York Film Critics Circle, the Critics Choice Association, and the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association.

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