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Punch-Drunk Love

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4

All-Reviews.com Movie Review: Punch-Drunk Love

Starring: Adam Sandler, Emily Watson
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Rated: R
RunTime: 105 Minutes
Release Date: October 2002
Genres: Comedy, Romance


*Also starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Luis Guzman, Mary Lynn Rajskub



Review by Jerry Saravia
4 stars out of 4

I have not cared for any of the Adam Sandler films I have seen. They would include "Happy Gilmore," "The Waterboy" and "The Wedding Singer." All of them were box-office hits, not to mention "Big Daddy" and "Billy Madison." My feeling has always been that Sandler was an untalented, uncharismatic actor who could not make me laugh no matter how much he tried. I would occasionally flash a smile or a mild chuckle when he did anything besides beating people to a pulp with a golf club - perhaps, all he needed was the right guide. "Punch-Drunk Love" has finally provided the material that Adam Sandler may have needed to prove his comic worth.

Just the opening sequence alone dictates the unknowable fact that this is no average Adam Sandler flick. Sandler plays Barry Egan, a toilet plunger salesman sitting at his desk inside a giant warehouse, trying to get frequent flyer miles from Healthy Choice products. He hears something outside the warehouse door. He peeks out in the morning light, witnesses a car crash that is as unsettling as any car crash I have seen in recent memory, and out of the blue, a cab drops off a harmonium. Here we see the movie's frequent symbols of uneasy violence against an object of beauty and simplicity. In essence, both symbols correspond with Barry's behavioral impulses. You see Barry is something of a loner. He lives in a bland apartment, has several sisters who call him "gay boy," refuses to go on dates (usually set up by his sisters), has a tendency to smash things, lies then apologizes at the most inopportune times for lying, and basically wants to be left alone. Barry tries a phone sex service that ends up costing him more than he bargained for. He tries to run his business but gets sidetracked by Health Choice products and a sweetheart of a woman named Lena (the aptly cast Emily Watson). The whole movie gets inside Barry's head so that we shift with carefree abandon from one incident to the next, never knowing where Barry or the movie will end up. We know at least it will end up somewhere between a violent cathartis or some poignant note of beauty.

Director Paul Thomas Anderson ("Boogie Nights," "Magnolia") crafts his most experimental feast yet, at a short 1 hour and forty minutes (for those who decried the 3 hour running time of "Magnolia"). He has created a canny comic nightmare from which Barry seems unable to escape from. Barry wants Lena and follows her to Hawaii on a business trip (using up his frequent flyer miles), but everything else is a distraction in his life. When Barry fidgets or feels he is being singled out, he smashes windows, bathrooms where he can barely remove a soap dispenser, and even people. The most fitting line in the film is when Barry professes his love for Lena by saying, "I want to smash your face with a sledgehammer." He doesn't mean it, but violent romantic witticisms are at the heart of his character. Violence, in a sense, is Barry's way of saying he needs help. Lena can calm his violent tendencies, and so can Barry's harmonium which he can hardly play.

Okay, so this is no ordinary Adam Sandler flick as you can well see. Yet I have not had such a good time at the movies since I can remember. "Punch-Drunk Love" is sort of a latter-day "After Hours" with the frenetic rhythms of "Run Lola Run" and a dose of Jacques Tati added to the mix. The result is romantic, strange, exceedingly funny, dramatic, and completely unpredictable (who else but P.T. Anderson could have thought of Shelley Duvall's song "He Needs Me" as a soundtrack choice). There is no way to tell where this film is going, and Sandler's uncharacteristic mannerisms and nervous tics make the experience exhausting, frustrating and entertaining.

Sandler has done something he has not attempted before - his Barry is a character study of what drives his violent and lovey-dovey urges. In the past, we just expected Sandler to go nuts without much explanation. This time, director Anderson provides the basis for the angry behavior. I believe "Punch-Drunk Love" will be considered the ultimate example of lonely, angry males in the new millenium who vent their frustrations by any means necessary.

A special note of mention is Emily Watson, one of the sweetest women in the movies today, with puppy dog eyes and a benign smile that made me a big fan of her work ever since "Breaking the Waves." Her role as Lena is thankless in theory, but it does provide the window of love for Barry that he desperately needs. I also need to mention Mary Lynn Rajskub as Barry's inquisitive sister (she was the cell phone voice who argues with Tom Cruise in "Magnolia," and played a blind woman in "Road Trip") who can't understand what Barry's problems are. One nervy, tensely funny sequence is when Barry's sister follows him from his office to outside the warehouse asking why he can't date Lena and why he keeps so much pudding in his office. She is ideally cast as his sister and sort of looks like Sandler.

There are so many surprises and hysterical sequences in "Punch-Drunk Love" that it would not be fair to dwell much further into the film's story. It is also a clever change-of-pace for Paul Thomas Anderson who continues to surprise me with every film. He is a director to watch out for in the future. And, I never thought I would say this, but Adam Sandler, with the right guide, may be the sparkling star to watch out for as well.

Copyright 2002 Jerry Saravia

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