Punch-Drunk Love, 2002.
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson.
Starring Adam Sandler, Emily Watson, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Luis Guzmán.
A supplier of novelty items with anger management issues edges towards a surprise romance story with a mysterious woman, while also being blackmailed by a phone-sex line managed by a devious mattress salesman.
Taking the viewer into an intense, colour coded dream of a movie, with Punch-Drunk Love, Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, Magnolia) further cemented his place as one of contemporary America’s leading filmmakers. Managing to create a film of beautiful poignancy while dealing with mental health issues and sexual insecurities is quite the feat, and when you add a memorable dramatic performance from Adam Sandler into the mix, you’re left with a movie fully deserving of this excellent Criterion Blu-ray release.
Barry Egan (Adam Sandler) is a novelty plunger salesman, struggling with a wayward temper that constantly threatens to undermine him. His relationships with his seven sisters and their frequent demands for his attention generally adds to his anxiety, and he has to continually strive to balance work and family life without losing it and smashing things up – something that he is always close to doing. Despite trying to make the most of things, occasionally helped out by his dead-pan colleague Lance (Luis Guzmán), Barry can’t help but feel something is missing.
Into this tense atmosphere steps Lena (Emily Watson), a mysterious woman who gradually piques Barry’s interest into believing there may be more to life than he has grown accustomed to. Around the same time Barry also discovers an antique musical harmonium and takes it home and nervously begins to learn how to play. However, the slowly unfolding romance – and Barry’s new found curiosity about the wider world – is threatened when he becomes embroiled in a blackmail plot operated by a phone sex line worker and her nefarious manager (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Desperate to keep the dream of a love affair alive, Barry must come to terms with difficult problems both within himself and the outside world.
Driven by a fantastic combination of baroque harmonium pieces by the score’s creator Jon Brion and the visual language of the ‘scopitones’ by artist Jeremy Blake, Punch Drunk Love displays charm and ingenuity at every level. Off beat and dark humour elements also help to raise the film well above an average ‘quirky’ rom-com. There is light and shade and a veracity about life here that is certainly one to savour. The side-plot about Barry collecting coupons for air-miles from Healthy Choices puddings is also hilarious in its oddness, made only brighter by the fact it was inspired by a real life ‘pudding guy’. Apart from the fact that it stars Sandler playing a sympathetic and believable character who is not just out for gurning and playing the fool, this is a movie that puts a wonderfully artistic show of romance onto the screen with a real abundance of energy and feeling.
Special Edition Blu-ray features:
Restored high-definition digital transfer, supervised by director Paul Thomas Anderson, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
Blossoms & Blood, a short 2002 piece by Anderson featuring Adam Sandler and Emily Watson, along with music by Jon Brion
New interview with Brion
New piece featuring behind-the-scenes footage of a recording session for the film’s soundtrack
New conversation between curators Michael Connor and Lia Gangitano about the art of Jeremy Blake, used in the film
Additional artwork by Blake
Cannes Film Festival press conference from 2002
NBC News interview from 2000 with David Phillips, the “pudding guy”
Mattress Man commercial
Essay by filmmaker, author, and artist Miranda July
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert W Monk is a freelance journalist and film writer.