Monday 18 January 2016

Movie Review: Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

A romantic comedy drama, Punch-Drunk Love mixes issues of emotional depression with love, but is ultimately too quirky for its own good.

Barry Egan (Adam Sandler) is a businessman specializing in the distribution of novelty gadgets, and works out of a warehouse in Los Angeles. Barry is lonely, unmarried, and has seven sisters who mercilessly tease him. One strange morning he witnesses a bizarre car crash, picks up a harmonium mysteriously placed on the sidewalk near his work, and meets Lena Leonard (Emily Watson), who is dropping off her car for repairs. Barry also starts to buy a large amount of pudding in the hopes of collecting millions of frequent travel points through a special brand promotion.

Feeling really lonely one night, Barry calls a sex chat hot line and gives away all his personal and credit information before talking to a girl calling herself Georgia. Lena turns out to be a colleague of one of Barry's sisters, and she persists enough to start a relationship with him, and this eventually blossoms into a romance. Meanwhile Georgia tries to extort money out of Barry, and when he resists, her boss Dean Trumbell (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a cheap furniture salesman, unleashes goons to intimidate Barry into paying up. But empowered by his new found love for Lena, Barry discovers new inner strength to fight back.

After delivering the complex multi-story Magnolia at over 3 hours, Paul Thomas Anderson looked for a smaller, simpler project. Punch-Drunk Love was the outcome, and on this evidence, Anderson should stick to ambitious epics. While well produced, gorgeously photographed and containing some points of interest, Punch-Drunk Love is low key to the point of irrelevance, a story that carries its embrace of eccentricity to eye-rolling territory. The film is supposed to celebrate the rejuvenating and physical power of love, but generally just falls flat, with neither the comedy nor the romance elements ever finding a zone of comfort.

The harmonium sits on Barry's desk, a mountain of pudding is piled on the warehouse floor, where the workers seem to specialize in wrecking things. Barry wears the same blue suit for most of the scenes but cannot explain why, and explodes into uncontrollable rages that should make him extremely unattractive if not downright dangerous to someone like Lena. He makes up for his fits of anger by otherwise being laid back to the edge of abject lethargy.

Scenes are dragged out to exhaustion, the thin script (written by Anderson) struggling to meaningfully fill the 95 minutes of screen time. Despite the absence of material Adam Sandler does his best, and delivers an engaging and mostly reserved performance. Ironically, this is one of the few times that Sandler gets to work with a celebrated director, and he stumbles into a piece of abstraction. Punch-Drunk Love is a sparse effort trying to fill space with nothingness, and not unexpectedly drifts away into immateriality.

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