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PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Adam Sandler, Emily Watson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Luis Guzman
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 EX, DTS 5.1, Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Columbia Tri Star
Features: See Review
Length: 95 Minutes
Release Date: June 24, 2003

“I have a love in my life that makes me stronger than anything you can imagine.”

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. Now with Punch-Drunk Love, 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 be replaying the song “He Needs Me” from 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 can certainly say that a wise decision was made to make this into a Superbit release, because the raw power in the visuals just about explode off the screen as a result. Columbia Tri Star has had a fantastic year with their releases, and Punch-Drunk Love is one of their most outstanding looking discs to date. 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 DVD presentation. Thus far, there hasn’t been a single P.T. Anderson film that has faltered on DVD, and Punch-Drunk Love may just be the grandest one yet.

Audio ****

Sound plays a key part in this film, and the 5.1 EX track is one of the best sounding tracks of any disc I’ve heard this year 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 ***

This is about as good as a Superbit 2 disc set can get, which is far from great, but mostly exceptional. The second disc includes 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.

Summary:

While Punch-Drunk Love might not attract everyone’s taste, it will certainly astound fans of both Paul Thomas Anderson and especially Adam Sandler, who delves into wonderful acting range with a solid breakthrough performance.