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    Punch-Drunk Love

    Up and Adam

    An art film starring Adam Sandler? That's what the director of "Magnolia" has made in "Punch-Drunk Love," and this not-quite-classic romance in which nothing ever goes as you expect is one of the best movies of the year.


    For his latest film, director Paul Thomas Anderson ("Boogie Nights," "Magnolia) has made, by his own admission, "an art house Adam Sandler film." Not only is "Punch-Drunk Love" Sandler's best work to date, it's also Anderson's.

    Written and directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson.
    Cast: Adam Sandler, Emily Watson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Luis Guzmán, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Lisa Spector, Julie Hermelin, Hazel Mailloux, Nicole Gelbard, David Stevens, Nathan Stevens, Mike D. Stevens, Rico Bueno..

    Related links: Official site | All of David N. Butterworth's reviews at Rotten Tomatoes
    Sandler stars as Barry Egan, a slightly dim-witted, socially immature individual who runs his own business selling (it would appear) novelty toilet plungers. Persistently abused and put-upon by all seven of his overbearing (not to mention cruel) sisters, Barry is a little unstable, prone to emotional outbursts such as crying and spates of wanton physical destructiveness. He's also more than a little obsessive, having recently stumbled upon a promotional loophole whereby he can obtain 1,000 frequent-flyer miles per 25-cent carton of Healthy Choice pudding purchased, and so the pudding piles up — not that Barry has ever flown anywhere before now, or has any intention of changing that statistic.

    Barry's lack of interest in redeeming all those free air miles changes, however, when he meets Lena (Emily Watson), a work colleague of one of those seven hateful sisters of his. Something, somewhere, strikes a chord. Maybe it's because she knows that piano he found in the street is called a harmonium, or maybe it's something else. But whatever it is, it's P.T. Anderson-styled love at first sight!

    This isn't just a 1940s-styled oddball-meets-girl Technicolor fantasy replete with kitschy silhouettes and all the musical dance numbers axed. . . . Their relationship lives; there's no stock footage here.  

    Not so fast though. This isn't just a 1940s-styled oddball-meets-girl Technicolor fantasy replete with kitschy silhouettes and all the musical dance numbers axed. No, there's more to it than that. And I don't just mean the friction stuff (here realized by a group of phone-sex blackmailers, headed up by Anderson regular Philip Seymour Hoffman, who come after Barry after he makes one ill-advised phone call to an outspoken gal called Georgia). I mean depth. I mean art (as in "art house"). I mean one of the year's best films.

    Anderson has always admired Sandler from his work on "Saturday Night Live," and wrote "Punch-Drunk Love" with the puppy-doggish comedian (with the surprisingly loud bark) very much in mind. It's the best Adam Sandler film yet because it takes Sandler's abilities and extends them, just as Anderson extends everything in his films — the cinematography, the soundtrack, the dialogue, plus all those weird, totally original things that only ever happen in "A P.T. Anderson Picture." Why can't other filmmakers challenge, surprise, and excite us like this?

    Sandler is remarkable in the film. His character is unbelievably sad, docile, courteous, and violent, yet Sandler delivers it all with uncanny accuracy and poignancy. At times you wonder whether the comedian's mumblings are scripted or improvised — is this Sandler's brilliance we're witnessing, or Anderson's? It's as if Anderson has figured out what Sandler's all about and perfected it on-screen. Watson is an excellent choice to play opposite the star of "Mr. Deeds" and "Little Nicky" — her Lena doesn't drown Barry in glamour or diction or intelligence. She talks up, not down, to him: Did you steal that harmonium from the street, and what's with all that pudding? Their relationship lives; there's no stock footage here.

    Things just happen in "Punch-Drunk Love." You may have to see the film more than once to understand why, or maybe 50 viewings will never be enough, but there were enough wonderful moments, enough brilliant moments, enough genuinely heartwarming moments, to win this viewer over. Completely. Sandler and Watson shine in "Punch-Drunk Love," a romantic comedy for our times: volatile yes, but deep down all heart. Short and simple, it's a knockout!

    OCTOBER 26, 2002

    Reader comments on Punch-Drunk Love:

  • PT Anderson's free ride   from Ethan, Nov 1, 2002
  • This was Punch-Drunk Garbage   from Michele Monaco, Nov 2, 2002
  • Re: This was Punch-Drunk Garbage   from ck, Nov 15, 2002
  • PTA's got God complex   from showman, Nov 11, 2002
  • Re: PTA's got God complex   from ATP, Dec 29, 2002
  • Punch Drunk Love was Amazing.   from Josh, Jan 18, 2004

  • Post a comment on "Punch-Drunk Love"