Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson || Produced by: Paul Thomas Anderson, Daniel Lupi, JoAnne Sellar
Screenplay by: Paul Thomas Anderson || Starring: Adam Sandler, Emily Watson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Luis Guzman, Robert Smigel
Music by: Jon Brion || Cinematography: Robert Elswit || Editing by: Leslie Jones || Country: United States || Language: English
Running Time: 95 minutes
As much as it pains me to applaud a project in which one of my most hated celebrities ever has starred, I have to give credit where credit is due. With that said, most of the credit here goes not to Adam Sandler but Paul Thomas Anderson (PTA), who proves he has enough filmmaking power to turn Sandler into a capable, sympathetic lead. Maybe that’s the more accurate way to celebrate Punch Drunk Love, as a totally out-of-left-field, off-the-wall screwball-comedy experiment designed by PTA to demonstrate that he can pretty much do anything — like make Adam Sandler likable.
Let’s get down to brass tax here: What exactly is Punch Drunk Love (PDL)? It is one of the creepiest, most awkward romantic comedies you will ever see, starring Sandler as a tormented, Aspberger’s-esque individual who finds love through his own perseverance and inner weirdo. The movie is structured as a standard rom-com in many ways, depicting the plot archetype of a lovable loser who gets the girl in the end. However, writer-producer-director Anderson takes this narrative formula and gives it a twist, courtesy of Sandler’s bizarre lead performance. The rawness of Sandler’s emotions, including and especially his violent outbursts, fill this story with a sense of isolation and emotional angst that separates it from the candy-coated romantic dramas of popular cinema. There is nothing artificial or contrived about PDL despite how artificial and contrived the rom-com genre has become over the years. It bucks the trend because it has PTA’s masterful hands at the helm.
The environment surrounding Sandler’s character is intricately constructed. Small things build on each other to create a hilarious, yet also tragic setting that makes the climax satisfying once Sandler overcomes his personal shortcomings and the irritating bullies around him. Quirky plot devices like the way Sandler’s Barry Egan makes a living selling toilet plungers and has seven sisters who ridicule and verbally abuse him, as well as the conflict arising when Egan calls a phone-sex hotline simply because he’s lonely, only to be later bullied for extortion — these things make the adventure work in odd ways you would never expect. PDL has a personality as eccentric as the strangest Wes Anderson flick.
Aside from being an obvious (if unstated) experiment to see if he could make a movie work with Sandler as the lead, PDL is also Anderson’s publicly declared attempt at making a movie 90 minutes long. At 95 minutes in length, he comes pretty close. This further amuses me as PTA is well known for making slow-paced films in excess of two and a half hours. The experimental change of pace works well here and fits with the genre of the movie. PDL is the exact opposite of every other Anderson drama: Tight, lean, and briskly paced.
There isn’t much else to say about this film. It’s perhaps even more accessible than Boogie Nights (1997) if you consider its fan-friendly lead man, short running-time, and genre, although its eccentricity and general weirdness may turn off some. Either way, Punch Drunk Love is yet another mark in the “Win”-column for Paul Thomas Anderson. The guy has proven he can pretty much do it all, and this collaboration with Sandler, arguably the polar opposite of Anderson in terms of what he represents in the film industry, is yet another feather in his cap. See it, if for no other reason than to observe Sandler in a totally absurd environment, a contradiction that should, by all means, make the universe implode: A good movie.
SUMMARY & RECOMENDATION: Anderson continues to surprise by going far outside his comfort zone, crafting a thoughtful, enjoyable comedy out of a traditionally brain-dead genre, and with the least likely front-man imaginable. Sandler proves he can take himself seriously and make us do the same. His turn as a sympathetic underdog surprises even though his character’s formula is as worn and overused as anything in the movie business.
— However… Punch Drunk Love is almost too lean, feeling at times like it’s rushing from one plot-point to the next in a hurried frenzy to make good on Paul Thomas Anderson’s self-promise. I know, I’m hard to please.
? You can go places in the world with pudding. That’s funny.