Punch Drunk Love
2002. Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson.
The best thing about love is when it comes unexpectedly. An integral part of humanity is connections, fleeting moments of fortune that can define significant portions of our lives or leave us wondering on the possibilities of an unexplored chance encounter. In any other hands, Punch Drunk Love would be a farce, a crude and jaded comical examination on the embarrassing truths of personal development and romantic evolution that have besieged the adult comedy genre over the last decade. Paul Thomas Anderson’s delicate touch liberates the subject matter by presenting a self deprecating love story about combating the intrinsic flaws that define us and finding respite within them.
Anderson’s script tells the story of morose loner Barry Egan. Adam Sandler’s career defining portrayal defies classification, bouncing from desperate romantic, sweepstakes huckster, and dangerous ruffian with a grace unlike anything Sander has ever displayed. Layers of comical throwaways are peeled back to reveal what is left when the spotlight recedes, with Sandler’s fledgling pathos evoking Chaplin’s Limelight without him portraying a performer. The genius of his performance is not only in the raw emotional gambit that Barry runs, but in the sly concession that Barry could be Sandler and vice versa, making his profane hopeful all the more relatable. Flawed protagonists are a dime a dozen, but Anderson’s treatment of his hero takes the sexiness away and leaves the soul for examination.
Robert Elswit’s cinematography is the closest that color cinema will come to golden age. Distracting flares and intense colors are everywhere, using visual compositions to reveal the quiet distress of despondent hearts. Jon Brion composed his score with Anderson during filming, with Anderson directing his cast to react to the beats. The importance of this decision cannot be overstated, as the musical cues reflecting Barry’s traumatic approach to existence perfectly blend with the tranquility that supplants chaos with harmonic bliss. Sue Chan’s art direction is the perfect accentuation, inking every set with the established cobalts and reds that are symbolic of Barry’s internal conflict and yet never feel overt. Sandler’s performance hinges on extremes, and the seminal house of technical cards that Anderson constructs around him never shows sign of collapse.
Anderson was awarded Best Director at Cannes for his efforts, while Sandler was singled out for his performance. Ultimately, Punch Drunk Love, is a simple, disengaging experience that reminds the viewer that imperfections are what makes us special and the unpredictable, sometimes violent, sometimes serendipitous occurrences that fill our memories have an undeniable influence on who we eventually become. Love is not a fickle thing in Anderson’s thesis, but a potent remedy that requires courage and acceptance of the idiosyncratic baggage that is attached to every wanting soul.
Available now for digital rental, or on a stunning 4K transfer blu ray from The Criterion Collection, Punch Drunk Love is the ultimate romantic comedy. Shunning any sense of Friday night nonchalance in favor of amorous caricature, if you’re looking for something to make you smile and celebrate the awkwardness of the shared relationship experience, this is a film that demands your attention.