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Punch Drunk Love (R)
Official Site
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Producer: Paul Thomas Anderson, Daniel Lupi, Joanne Sellar
Written by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast: Adam Sandler, Emily Watson, Luis Guzman, Phillip Seymour Hoffman

Rating: out of 5


For his fourth film Punch Drunk Love, director P.T. Anderson once again engages in the kind of seemingly audacious stunt casting that has become his trademark. The trend started of course with Boogie Nights, a serious film starring Burt Reynolds and ďMarky MarkĒ Wahlberg, then carried on to Magnolia where All American boy Tom Cruise played misogynist Dr. Phil. The strategy worked like a charm, generating massive build-up for two low-budget, three-hour films about emotionally damaged losers.

Now once again Anderson offers an unlikely roleómeek, novelty plunger salesmanóto an unlikely choiceóking of lowbrow comedy, Adam Sandler. Although really, Sandler isnít truly playing against type, even if this is a very different type of film; heís Barry Egan, a clueless schlub with a good heart. As Barry, Sandler may break down and cry, but he also indulges in some of his tried-and-true antics. He curses like a child, and even gets to beat up some white trash meanies. So I feel confident in saying that while Sandler may be right for the part, nothing about his performance suggests the birth of Adam Sandler, serious actor. Which is good, because a revelation like that would make me question everything Iíd ever known or believed in, and frankly I havenít got that kind of time. And when you really think about it none of the actors in those other films were really stretching that much either. Weíd all seen the sleazy side of Reynolds before, Cruise just did a spiteful variant on his cocky í80s routine, and if he hadnít somehow found his way into the mainstream, itís more than likely Marky Mark would have ended up in porn for real. (Note to Wahlberg fans: HE CANíT ACT, I donít care what anyone says, he only has like three facial expressions.) Anderson provides a different context for his stars, but he never really subverts their image, as, say, Sergio Leone did when he had Henry Fonda play a vicious killer in Once Upon A Time In The West.

So as I was saying, Sandler turns out to be surprisingly adequate, and Anderson is at the top of his game. His movie is a collection of confounding, but brilliantly belabored set pieces. Barry Egan often seems to go through emotional jump cuts, exploding with little build up; like many of Andersonís characters heís damaged and constantly on the edge of a breakdown. Heís belittled by his seven sisters, and heís suckered into a blackmailing scheme thatís contingent on his shame and timidity. Not everythingís going wrong for him though. Heís figured out a flaw in a promotional contest that will allow him to amass a lifetimeís worth of frequent flyer miles simply by buying enough pudding, and he also finds a kind of unconditional love with a friend of his sisters, Lena (Watson). As played by Watson, Lena is cipher offering salvation, heralded by a mysterious omen; she comes into Barryís life already prepared to love him, all he has to do is reach out for her.

Punch Drunk Love has a rhythm and an internal logic that seem to mirror the fractured psyche of its main character. Instead of just humming along, it gets worked up, it jumps, and at times it breaks down. It actually resembles a demented musical because Barry seems to be internally queued to the alternately frantic and swooning music of composer Jon Brion Anderson. Certainly, P.T. Andersonís style isnít for everyone, and Iím saying this as someone who thought Boogie Nights and Magnolia were overrated. He delights in thwarting expectations and his films tend to be disjointed and self-conscious to the point of being annoying. Punch Drunk Love doesnít really break from those tendencies, but perhaps as a result of using a single protagonist Anderson finally finds a story consistent enough for his craft to take full effect.

óTed Rholes

 

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

Itís worth a full-price ticket.

Itís worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...


Mike Doughty



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