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PUNCH DRUNK LOVE
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Adam Sandler, Emily Watson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Luis Guzman
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.39:1
Studio: Criterion
Features: See Review
Length: 95 Minutes
Release Date: November 15, 2016

So here we go...”

Film ***1/2

Adam Sandler starring in a film written and directed by none other than Paul Thomas Anderson? Say it isn’t so. Anderson’s fourth feature film, Punch-Drunk Love, is one of the most uniquely eccentric love stories to come around in some time, if not THE only one.

The film is a practical embodiment of the mood and environment of the central character of the story. Anderson, fresh off the back-to-back success of his epic pieces Boogie Nights and Magnolia was aiming for an entirely different piece, and of course, one that didn’t require a three hour plus running time. He wrote the screenplay specifically for Sandler and Emily Watson.

Anderson, as it turns out, is a fan of Sandler’s screwball comedies, and that’s what triggered the desire to work with him. There have been a couple Sandler flicks I’ve admired myself, such as The Wedding Singer, Little Nicky, and Happy Gilmore, but there have also been a few that left a bad taste in my mouth. With this film, Sandler has thoughtfully taken the same route that Jim Carrey took when making The Truman Show, which is a superb blend of his usual comic mannerisms mixed in with some tour de force acting, making this an Oscar-worthy showcase for the funnyman.

Sandler plays Barry Egan, a thirty-something businessman who’s in the business of selling toiletry products for use in other areas of businesses, such as hotels. Barry seems like a normal guy in the work area, but his personal life is nothing short of an apocalyptic event waiting to occur. He is the only man in a family dominated by seven sisters, each of whom despite having a certain level of affection, takes joy in discussing embarrassing moments in Barry’s childhood. Whenever these horrific memories are brought to Barry’s attention, he explodes into a sudden rage, breaking and destroying whatever he is near as a result.

Fearing that he might need a shrink, Barry’s life is soon turned upside down for the better when a beautiful woman enters his life. Her name is Lena (Emily Watson), and she appears to have a instant attraction to Barry, a notion that manages to alter Barry’s emotional state minute by minute. She is attracted to the eccentrics in Barry and in his life, including the desire to rack up endless frequent flyer miles through purchases of pudding and frozen foods.

But Barry’s life hasn’t yet run out of thorns. In the aftermath of a phone call to a sex line that resulted in an attempt to extort money from him, Barry is hunted and pursued by representatives of the sleazy owner (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who attempts to intimidate and extract money. Ironically, this couldn’t come at a more perfect time, since Barry plans to surprise Lena, who’s on a business trip in Hawaii. So he goes on the lam, and ultimately discovers spontaneous true love.

Besides being a potent love story, Punch-Drunk Love is also a visual feast. Anderson fills the screen with colorful art-like portraits in between sequences, which really add a romantic tone to the film. Music plays a key role in the film as well, including sudden bursts of orchestrations and original music pieces. I dare you not to replay the song “He Needs Me” from Robert Altman’s Popeye in your head after watching this.

Filled with beauty and power, Punch-Drunk Love is a unique love story, as well as a pure tour de force for Adam Sandler, who hopefully will go on more films of this sort. The chemistry between him and Emily Watson is stunning, and the genius writing and directing of Paul Thomas Anderson elevates this piece above the usual love story fare.

Video ****

I experienced such immense joy when learning that Criterion was going to be handling the Blu-ray release of this film. It already made for a fantastic DVD release 13 years ago, so just imagining how Criterion would deliver this in HD had me giddy with excitement. Not only did they not disappoint, but this is their most gorgeous looking release this year! The color pallette pops off the screen in a way that can only be described as visually magical. The level of image detail is nothing short of phenomenal. The photographic sculptures of art, also known as scopitones, which break between scenes, are as eye popping as anything you could ever see in a Blu-ray presentation. Robert Elswit’s widescreen photography absolutely soars here from beginning to end. Criterion has delivered a pure visual wonder with this release!

Audio ****

Sound plays a key part in this film, and the DTS HD mix is one of the best sounding tracks of any Blu-ray disc I’ve heard that isn’t an action or effects-driven movie. You can tell that Anderson loves toying with the sound in his films, because it can burst out any given moment, as in the opening scene of the film. Dialogue is a clear as it could ever hope to be, and music playback is nothing short of incredible. Hands down, one of the best audio transfers of recent memory.

Features ***1/2

Criterion has delivered a winning mix of new and archival material for this Blu-ray release. There’s a wonderful new interview with composer Jon Brion, as well as a glimpse at a recording session at Abbey Road. There’s a conversation between art curators Michael Connor and Lia Gangitano about the artwork in the film provided by Jeremy Blake. Next up are interviews with Paul Thomas Anderson, Adam Sandler, Emily Watson and Philip Seymour Hoffman at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival (where Anderson was awarded the Best Directing Prize), as well as footage from a press conference. Also featured is a piece from NBC News about David Phillips, the “pudding guy" who helped inspire the Sandler character. The remaining extras come ported over from the initial DVD release. They include 12 individual scopitones, three deleted scenes, a twelve minute short written and directed by Anderson titled “Blossoms and Blood”, a funny commercial for Mattress Man (the Philip Seymour Hoffman character’s business front), three trailers, and a booklet of additional artwork by Jeremy Blake. Lastly, there is a terrific insert booklet featuring an essay by filmmaker and author Miranda July.

Summary:

Fourteen years following its release, Punch-Drunk Love is just a potent a love story as ever. It remains Adam Sandler’s best work to date, and makes you wish he would do more dramatic work. Criterion’s Blu-ray release is an absolute marvel and is one of the year’s biggest must own releases!

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