Fittingly, I walked out of Punch Drunk Love in a daze. Written and directed by wunderkind P.T. Anderson the film is visually dazzling; from the transitional color bars of orange and yellow and the brilliant blue suit that Adam Sandler sports, to the shots of people in silhouette. At times abrupt, jarring and violent the film is also very sweet. The soundtrack is filled with gentle ditties like He Needs Me from the movie Popeye, sung by Shelley Duvall. Putting aside the bag of tricks though, Mr. Anderson continues his streak of clever writing and fascinating character development.
In his signature style the film begins with a series of seemingly unrelated incidents that set the stage for an unlikely love affair. Emily Watson co-stars as Lena Leonard, a confident woman who coaxes a timid pursuit from Mr. Sandler. In his first dramatic role Mr. Sandler stars as Barry Egan, an independent businessman who runs a bathroom supply company, dealing in oddities like novelty plungers. In a scene heavy with irony Barry attacks a bathroom, smashing it and everything it represents to bits.
A seemingly mismatched couple, Ms. Watson is charming and Mr. Sandler is at his most empathetic. Lovable and naïve hes a man-child whos anxiety and resentment boils just beneath the surface and occasionally erupts. The only brother to seven sisters, hes bullied and exploited to the point where hes constantly withdrawing in passive self-defense or exploding with volcanic rage.
The great Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Dean Trumbell, a sleazy con man who operates a phone sex business from the back of a mattress store. Barrys ultimate nemesis, he matches his anger and frustration prompting a thrilling and funny showdown between the two. Like many of the scenes in the film humor is readily mixed with pathos, leaving the viewer constantly off-balance.
In another scene rife with humor and sadness Barry approaches his dentist brother in-law about a reference for a psychiatrist and breaks down sobbing. More sad than funny, its painful to watch.
Mr. Anderson enjoys examining the worlds fluidity, the patterns and coincidences that weave together lives. Here the characters are driven together through Barrys nightmarish dalliance with a phone sex operator, which ultimately forces him to confront many of the issues that have clearly plagued him throughout his life.
While at times its hard to watch a character so completely uncomfortable in his own skin Punch Drunk Love left me puzzling about it for days. Along with his spiritual brother of no relation, Wes Anderson, P.T. Anderson is probably the most interesting and provocative writer and director working today. Both are auteurs with a persistent and almost pathological pursuit of a vision thats constantly evolving. I cant wait to see what they do next. Im Erik Petersen for Movie Magazine.
© 2002 - Erik Petersen - Air Date: 10/23/02
Punch Drunk Love
USA - 2002