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Punch-Drunk Love


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Punch-Drunk Love  
Paul-Thomas Anderson I 2002 I USA
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In the truest Charlotesque sense, Barry Egan (played by Adam Sandler, in an unusual yet brilliant performance) is a tragic character whom everyone seems to hate, a shy and clumsy individual misunderstood by all whose life is constantly filled with misery, sadness, never-ending problems and emotional exasperation. Barry Egan is a quiet and socially awkward man with an office in an out-of-the-way warehouse. He is dedicated to his job as a wholesale toilet plunger salesman, he keeps a nice apartment, and he is obsessed with special offers on grocery store products. Despite all this, he somehow often manages to get into the strangest and most out-of-the-world situations. He cries for no apparent reason, he smashes windows with a hammer and is constantly abused by his seven sisters. He is challenged to explain the reasons for his actions, and it eventually becomes clear that Barry cannot control his often-violent impulses, a trait which is increasingly problematic. And it is precisely this sort of charlotism which director Paul Thomas Anderson that makes the film so compelling. Punch Drunk-Love is not a simple picture; its also a character study and a damn fine one at that. Barry Egan is a solitary figure who is constantly telling himself that his life has to improve, but this wont happen until love finds him. Comparisons with Charlie Chaplins creation, the mythic Charlot, are, in my humble opinion, inevitable. So when a mysterious woman comes into his life, his emotions go haywire, fluctuating between uncontrollable rage, lust and self-doubt. And his life will suddenly take a radical turn.

What makes the film so special is the absolute outrage and utter insanity of the moments that are exposed. Punch-Drunk Love is at times totally absurd yet, somehow, the often implausible scenes that are displayed are made utterly believable by Anderson. The film takes the viewer to places we least expect to go, from the thrashing of a toilet by Barry in one of his many violent impulses in an expensive restaurant to, er, Hawaii. However, it is the unique singularity with which the film is characterised that distinguishes it from the rest. Because, there's no denying it, Punch-Drunk Love is no ordinary film. In an era where we are constantly being bombarded by money-taking blockbusters with lots of explosions and CGI, Anderson/s film comes as a refreshing and surprisingly original experience. And his love for cinema is ever-present in every frame. That's a fact.

One of the elements of the film that most struck me was the acting, of course. Adam Sandler, in a role written specifically for him, demonstrates that he can indeed act in movies that do not rely on poo-poo jokes in order to makes us laugh. Instead, he opts for a more humane and profound performance that is quite mesmerising, really. What can I say, Adam Sandler shines. Every word, gesture, expression and nuance of his is genuinely perfect. I was quite stunned when I realised that he had not been Oscar-nominated. But it's not just him who shows his acting abilities; it's the supporting cast that stands out, too. Emily Watson (oooh, those beautiful blue eyes of hers), with her sweet British accent and magnificent composure, does a very fine job in portraying Egan's love interest. And Philip Seymour Hoffman (a usual of Andersons) couldnt get any better as the owner of a mattress company who gets in a row with Egan. He automatically confirms himself as one of today's most talented actors.

Nonetheless, the movie isn't just excellently acted; it's also a delight to watch. The camerawork was magnificent and Anderson really shows off his visual talent. The guy has a gift for creating awkward situations in the most unlikely places, and that's a very rare thing. Not only that, but every scene in the movie is masterfully executed; take the soon-to-be-famous silhouette kiss sequence for example. The way it's all done just makes you think, 'Isn't it just a pleasure to see how a director can create such a joyous moment in a film?' What the film contains is magic, pure and real magic. That kiss scene must be one of the most glorious moments in cinema history. And Jon Brion's music: something to be cherished. As subtle as it is odd, it uses everything at its disposal to reflect the shift from chaos to serenity in Barry's mind. Great stuff.

Now, I don't know how this film would compare to Anderson's previous outings like Boogie Nights or Magnolia (because of the mere fact that I have not seen them) but there's not getting around it; this is truly excellent filmmaking.

Oddly appealing, surreal, giddily heartfelt, esoteric, funny and moving, Punch Drunk-Love is a beautiful picture. It's a romantic comedy, a love story, a tale about the pains and pleasures of life that is as wonderful as it is bizarre and fully satisfies. The film is quite a vision; had it been filmed by someone else, it would have probably turned out a mess, let's face it.  It's dark yet colourful, inimitable and incredibly pleasing. The overall feeling of it is like when you eat a succulent chocolate brownie and you leave the spoon on the plate, full and somewhat overwhelmed, but deeply knowing that the whole experience was worth it. Winner of the Best Director award at Cannes 2002, Punch Drunk Love proves to be, without a doubt, one of the best films of 2002 if not the best. 'This is funny. This is nice.'


Reviewed by Pablo Hernandez, 2003