Retro Review: Punch-Drunk Love

The critically hailed director of “Magnolia” and “Boogie Nights”, Paul Thomas Anderson returns to the big screen with his take on the crazy side of romance.

“Punch Drunk Love” stars comedian Adam Sandler as Barry Egan, a salesman who is desperately trying to keep his business afloat. That isn’t Barry’s biggest problem. Barry is the only brother to seven sisters. Everyday is an uphill battle with his sisters as they constantly call him at work and belittle him in public as well as in private. Because of all this pressure Barry has kept forcing his frustration and anger into himself. That however doesn’t always work and Barry lashes out.

One day Barry finds himself feeling very lonely and just wanted to talk to a woman without all the baggage of his world. Barry calls a “1-900” service and talks for a while with a girl named Georgia. Barry wakes up the next morning and is called by the “1-900” girl Georgia who asks Barry for some money. Barry tells her no but she threatens Barry and trouble ensues. Barry is bewildered what to do and it gets a little more intense when Barry finally finds Lena (Emily Watson), a girl who may be his salvation. What is Barry to do?

“Punch Drunk Love” has all the staples of Paul Thomas Anderson film. There are his familiar supporting cast staples, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Luis Guzman. There is a raw texture to some of the scenes where frustration is being amplified. There is also Anderson’s use of music, which he has always been able to use very metaphorically. His music backed scenes always mean a lot more than is being transmitted.

Looking past the staples there are some things that aren’t typical Anderson. One, the film is only 89 minutes long, which is extremely short for a PT Anderson movie. Second, the film has little or no scope. The film itself is internal and half the time you couldn’t forecast Barry’s reaction to a given situation. I found that increasingly frustrating.

“Punch Drunk Love” is in many ways as frustrating to watch as it is to enjoy. It’s like standing in front of three seven-foot tall sheets of fogged glass. As you peer through the glass you can make out a person on the other side but it’s too hazy to make out any details. You take a “sledge hammer” and smash the first pane. As the first pane falls away you notice the image is fading. You hurry and smash the others but by the time you are done there is nothing there.

As this film continues I felt like that was what was happening to me. You can see exactly what the film is trying to put across but logically you can’t make sense of it. So you try to get further inside the film. To this day I am still boggled to what was beyond those panes of glass. The film is in plain English a very hard sell.

I liked that Adam Sandler is trying more edgy films but I am still not sure if he has enough range to flourish in them. “Punch Drunk” enables Sandler to use his frustration and anger, which has been his staple for his successful brand of comedy but the film, uses that strength as a sickness not as humor.

After I witnessed “Punch Drunk” I felt depressed, dismayed, irritated, and bewildered. Does Barry ever control his anger or will it eventually harm the woman he loves? I don’t know and I am not sure if I care. I am still a PT Anderson fan but this is just to hard to take in.

(2.5 out of 5)

So Says the Soothsayer.

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