I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Punch-Drunk Love

This is the new Adam Sandler picture, but instead of being directed by one of his college roommates, this one’s by a real director, “p.t. anderson” (a.k.a. Paul Thomas Anderson, director of HARD EIGHT, BOOGIE NIGHTS and MAGNOLIA). Mr. Anderson – not to be confused with Paul “not Thomas” Anderson, director of RESIDENT EVIL and crap – is one of these virtuoso younger directors that’s so obviously talented that people bend over backwards to prove he’s overrated. Not too many people saw HARD EIGHT but they’ll tell you BOOGIE NIGHTS was a ripoff of Scorsese and MAGNOLIA was a ripoff of Altman and now they’re saying PUNCH DRUNK LOVE is good for an Adam Sandler movie but it’s Anderson’s worst.

Well I’m not sure I agree with that. Sure it’s a little lighter just because it’s not long and it’s got two main characters instead of a whole ensemble. It’s not an epic. It’s smaller than the last two. But it’s his most original, and maybe his most genuine. Now he steps out from the obvious comparisons to other director’s styles and shows you which parts are the p.t. anderson style.

Punch-Drunk LoveIt’ll be funny if people go in expecting THE WATER BOY and get this instead. This is clear in the long, quiet opening scene where Sandler sits by himself in a big garage mostly just drinking coffee and talking on the phone about the regulations of a sweepstakes offer. It’s a less cartoony, much more vivid world than you’ve ever seen Sandler in, but it’s also full of surreal touches and mysteries, like the organ that somebody drops off on the street and he decides to keep it.

Mr. Sandler really is great in this picture but maybe what’s most refreshing is he’s not trying some formula to become a serious actor. He’s not really doing anything that different from what he’s done before. He’s definitely not pulling some kind of Robin Williams tears of a clown bullshit. There are no dramatic monologues or anything. It’s just that Anderson puts this guy in a context where you take his emotions seriously, and you can see the sadness and anger that is just behind those eyes waiting to get out. Well, actually there are alot of parts where it’s not waiting to get out, he breaks alot of shit in this movie. He has kind of an anger problem, in my opinion. It’s played for laughs here like it is in the other Sandler movies but also it’s real sad. You don’t see Bob Barker or anybody.

Mr. Anderson is one of these directors, like the other Mr. Anderson who did ROYAL TENENBAUM, who have an almost ridiculous attention to detail. So there are many great touches in this movie and I would rather not give them away by summarizing the plot. But as this lonely, socially inept toilet plunger salesman finds his first love (Emily Watson!) you find many great things you’ve never seen in movies quite like this before. As soon as you see his sisters, you know exactly why he’s how he is. There are many scenes of loneliness and ineptitude that we can all relate to, like the part where he leaves Emily Watson’s apartment and then tries to come back but has no clue which one he just came from. It’s so true to life, emotionally speaking, that I’d have to say this is more sincere than BOOGIE NIGHTS which is dealing more with problems like “I am doing so much cocaine that I can’t get it up and this is costing me my job,” or MAGNOLIA which has real emotions but seems to pile every possible tragedy besides killer bee attacks onto one small group of characters. Laying it on too thick.

You also see two of the great Anderson regulars in there, Luis Guzman and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Unfortunately John C. Reilly, who was in all three of Anderson’s other movies, is not in attendance.

This movie is a great balance of sad and funny. It has a very unique feel of dark comedy combined with old fashioned romance (made more glamorous by occasional lapses into rainbow colored abstract animation) and stupdendous use of music and car crashes. I’ll definitely watch this one again.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Friday, November 1st, 2002 at 12:12 pm and is filed under Comedy/Laffs, Reviews, Romance. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

19 Responses to “Punch-Drunk Love”

  1. I love love love this movie. I think Funny People may contain a better Sandler performance because he’s playing so against type and against anything he’s ever done in that movie, but I would call Barry Egan my favorite character and performance by Sandler. Maybe not as good as Happy Gilmore, but still great.

  2. Did you see that quote on the IMDB homepage today too? “I have so much strength in me you have no idea. I have a love in my life. It makes me stronger than anything you can imagine.” If you’d have asked me before I heard that line if Sandler could be badass, I’d have said no. I’d have been wrong.

  3. YES! Yeah I saw it earlier today but COMPLETELY forgot about it. The reason I posted a comment was because I just watched Funny People again last night and it put me in a non-funny Adam Sandler mood so I started watching Punch Drunk Love. I’m at the phone sex part. Absolutely horrofying.

  4. Saw this again last night because I was missing Philip Seymour Hoffman and sorry guys, I just can’t get on board with it -I’ve seen it twice before and hated it, but I figured it was my problem and 1 Million Hipsters can’t be wrong. But sorry, I know it’s against the law to say something is objectively a bad movie, but this one comes really really close. It’s not involving, it’s not interesting, it feels twice as long as its 95 minutes. The Jon Brion score, which I love in pretty much every other movie, is grating and overbearing and yes, I know that’s the point but it’s still painful to watch and I wanted to turn this movie off about every 5 minutes.

    It’s not funny, it’s not sad, and I don’t know why people keep calling it romantic because the love story is underdeveloped and I don’t believe any part of it for a second. And as much as people like making fun of the “manic pixie dream girl” trope as being some vaguely sexist male fantasy, at least manic pixie dream girls leave some kind of impression – Watson has no character to play with no characteristics other than she’s British and has more of a “real woman’s” body than you’re used to seeing on screen. And completely ok with the insane actions of an insane person.

    The good news is Sandler is great, and Hoffman is incredible in those 3 or so minutes he’s on screen. Absolutely electric and intense and of course the big showdown with him and Sandler is anticlimactic and has a resolution that seems to have been written by an 8 year old. I still don’t even understand the appeal of the plot in this one – it’s like PT Anderson watched an episode of Dateline about phone scammers and another episode about the pudding cup/frequent flier miles thing and decided to write a script jamming them together. (I don’t even understand what the pudding cup thing had to do with anything – he makes two huge trips in this movie – to Hawaii and Utah – neither one of which involved using the miles!!) Oh and despite about 5 or so truly great shots, I don’t even think the movie looks that good (Plus there’s probably more lens flares than Star Trek ’09 – where’s the nerd/film school police to get up and arms over this movie?)

    Speaking of which – watching this 12 years later after we’ve been hit with so many superhero movies, I wonder if this was Anderson’s Unbreakable-style nod to the genre? There’s obviously the Popeye connection; also Barry has an alter-ego/hidden persona, a Hulk-like rage superpower, and a girlfriend with a typical comic book name (they say the name “Lena Leonard” about 20 times in the movie, I can’t think it’s unintentional). Plus there’s a puppet-master supervillain in a secret lair, (Barry’s warehouse where like 40% of this movie takes place is kind of like his own Batcave), and I guess that explains why Barry inexplicably wears the same suit the entire movie?? Anyway, I give up, I’m sure someone will now tell me how I’m a cynic and to go back to watching That’s My Boy or something. (I would honestly put this one below Jack & Jill, by the way – that one at least has a Pacino performance that must be seen to be believed)

  5. This is easily my favorite P.T. Anderson joint. The others are all really good to great but they’re so self-consciously grand that I have trouble connecting to them. They don’t really need me. They exist as epic documents whether I care or not. This one hits me where I live. Maybe you need to have issues with pent-up anger to get on this movie’s wavelength, but I totally relate to being an absurd little man who just wants to break shit all the time because he’s trapped in a surreal world full of needlessly frustrating people, and you’re just looking for a reason, a motive, a duty, a damsel, any fucking excuse to break free and be the goddamn boss for a change. Which is a typical nerd fantasy, except in PUNCH DRUNK LOVE he’s still absurd and stunted and ridiculous, but who gives a shit? He’s got a person who understands him when he speaks, a million miles of air travel, and he defeated the Mattress Man. He has so much strength in him you have no idea.

    Shit, I might have to watch it again.

  6. Preach, neal. Thanks for saving me 95 minutes, lest I be tempted to revisit this thing I hated [10+?] years ago but can’t quite remember why.

    Not that Mr. M isn’t right, too — “…trapped in a surreal world full of needlessly frustrating people…” Yep.

  7. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fkeLGisUHtc

    I have nothing to add to this other than to just watch that, even if you didn’t like the movie (which I did).

  8. wow, onthewall, that clip is pretty amazing. I’m guessing it’s “fake” since I THINK those are the “brothers”/goons checking on PSH at the end, but he also didn’t seem to be in character after the fall (i.e. I feel his character wouldn’t have been so calm and jolly about it and would have probably gone on a 5 minute cursing spree)

    Great defense of the film, Majestyk. I’ve definitely liked movies most people don’t because they touched me in a certain way or related to certain events in my life i was going through at the time; I wish that was the case here since everyone seems to love this movie and I thought it was like torture. I do have to argue that I don’t feel he defeated The Mattress Man at all – the guy still stole his $500, he injured his girl, wrecked her car, and saddled her with a big hospital bill and got away with it via childish schoolyard semantics. (I also don’t get how a guy with so much pent-up rage lets off the brothers so easily when they just bloodied his girlfriend – he LITERALLY hands a weapon over to the guy driving(!) for who knows what reason, when everything we know about the character says he would have beaten them all to a bloody pulp.)

    UNLESS onthewall’s clip takes place later in the timeline and the confrontation with Sandler scared him into becoming a decent person, in which I might have to re-assess my opinion of this movie.

  9. It must have been an accident. I would wager a guess that Paul wanted to shoot a commercial that could be shown at some point during the movie, like he did in MAGNOLIA with the Mackey character, instead we got probably what’s the best DVD extra feature ever.

  10. I like PDL more than you do, neal2zod, but I agree with much of your sentiment about it. I WANT to like it more than I actually do. As much PTA’s other movies. But it’s a flimsy 7/10 for me. The praise for it as some kind of masterpiece confuses me.

    Ultimately, I just didn’t buy what the movie was selling and found its character turn to be simplistic and forced. Similar to As Good As It Gets, where the end “victory” for the main character seems like one step forward before the inevitable two steps back. Barry’s issues run deeper than something that can be fixed by more music/color in his life and coming across a woman needy enough to make the first move and look past his issues. By the end of it I mostly felt sorry for anyone in Barry’s life who would have to pick up the pieces once Lena decided to get the hell out of dodge.

    It is very very well directed, but, as you mentioned, also one of longest-feeling 90 minute movies I’ve ever seen. The iffy romance aside, the first 30 minutes are interminable (and not just chaotic scenes meant to put us into Barry’s mental state) and the whole phone sex subplot is about half as funny or interesting as it should have been, despite the presence of Phillip Seymour Hoffman. The fact that I still like it as much as I do is a testament to PTA’s direction. And the movie does become enjoyable during the last 45 minutes once it finds its groove.

  11. onthewall – thanks for solving that mystery!

  12. I kind of wish I didn’t. It was just nice knowing that it existed as a random thing that may or may not have been staged. Still, Phil took a hell of a bump for his art, even if it just became an extra on a DVD.

  13. While I’m still thinking about it. I just watched HARD EIGHT (or SYDNEY if you must) on Netflix. It’s an interesting little film, of which Philip Baker Hall owns just about everything in it. Now I’m onto the much more recent A LATE QUARTET, where PSH plays a violinist alongside Catherine Keener and Christopher Walken. Death is a major theme of it from what I know, so it might be very depressing to watch given the circumstances now.

  14. I love A LATE QUARTET. Wish it had blown up bigger after Toronto. Quality dramas and great work from Walken.

  15. I’d forgotten about HARD EIGHT, PTA’s first film. It doesn’t get as much attention as his later, more ambitious stuff. Kinda like David O Russells SPANKING THE MONKEY was a strong debut, but faded into the background as his output increased.

    HARD EIGHT had similar themes that PTA used in some of his later films. The surrogate family/parent/mentor/benefactor relationship of Baker Hall and JC Reilly and Gwyneth seems to be a recurring storyline. BOOGIE NIGHTS had the porn family adopting their own dysfunctional children.

    MAGNOLIA just had dysfunctional EVERYONE. The only remotely normal one was PS Hoffman’s nurse/carer looking after Jason Robards, who he may have seen as a father figure. Most everyone in MAGNOLIA had some father issues. Cruises misogynist, Baker Hall’s abused daughter, the young whiz kid pushed into the limelight by his driven dad and pisses his pants on live TV.

    All the way down to THE MASTER, with the cult adopting a fucked up Phoenix.

    Maybe they’re about peoples need for a family, and they get them where they find them.

  16. This is one scene that never made it in the final cut but i think it´s pretty awesome. I can totally relate with that feeling Sandlers trying to show us here. So cute you could bash it into pieces.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZXOE3lZUpaY

  17. Good scene but I can’t say I do relate. Sandler was so unsettling in his performance, which fits perfectly in with what PTA does. There’s an uncomfortability that either plays as tension or character development in all of his films, a kind of real-ness that’s almost to the point of being unbearable.

    I always wondered how COLLATERAL would have turned out if Sandler played the cab driver.

  18. Punch-Drunk Love

    This Cannes-award-winning comedy channels the spirit of classic Hollywood musicals and the whimsy of Jacques Tati into an idiosyncratic ode to the delirium of new romance.

Leave a Reply





XHTML: You can use: <a href="" title=""> <img src=""> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <b> <i> <strike> <em> <strong>