Movie Dictator Club: Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

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My entry in the Movie Dictator Club for the month of March, 2009!

Written By: Paul Thomas Anderson
Directed By: Paul Thomas Anderson

It’s time once again for the Movie Dictator Club, and this month I was assigned Punch-Drunk Love by Junior. Good luck for me as I have really grown to love the works of Paul Thomas Anderson the past couple of months and Punch-Drunk Love was the only film outside of his debut, Sydney, that I had yet to see. Well, that has been rectified and as usual there was plenty of love about this Anderson work. What immediately struck me after finishing Punch-Drunk Love was how different it is in scope from every other Anderson film. His other works have been large in expanse, long in run time and tackling a much broader cast of characters. Punch-Drunk Love is a small picture, a more personal one from Anderson while still retaining his distinctive visual and narrative style.

Every review I have ever read about Punch-Drunk Love has gone into great detail about how amazing a turn this was for Adam Sandler, but I don’t quite agree with that take. His performance was great and it had to carry the film, but in all reality it shouldn’t come as any surprise that Sandler was able to provide such depth because comedic actors are generally the most competent actors around. Even in Sandler’s worst fare there was always an edge to his performance, sometimes he makes you laugh, sometimes he doesn’t, but there was always something extra under the surface. In Punch-Drunk Love he brings that little bit extra above ground and what we get is a subdued performance from him. Instead of the laughs coming from Sandler’s loud moments as is usual with his films, in Punch-Drunk Love he is funny when quietly observing while a little bit scary when engaged in loud activity. So yes, it was a great performance from Sandler, but I believe he is capable of plenty of performances just like Barry Egan, if only he would go there more often.

The one area where I felt Punch-Drunk Love was lacking was in its use of the supporting cast. Emily Watson, Luis Guzman and Philip Seymour Hoffman do feel woefully underdeveloped, although Guzman has the least to cry about, and it would have been nice for their characters to be fleshed out just a bit more. My only other criticism isn’t a valid one so I can’t hold it against the film, but I really do wish there would have been more. It is a films job to leave me wanting more, so I can’t hold that against Punch-Drunk Love, but when it finished I really wanted the story to keep going.

For Punch-Drunk Love Anderson has ditched some of his more flamboyant tendencies with the camera, instead it plays as a much more naturalistic piece. Long tracking shots, long scenes without any cuts or edits and while there is plenty going on in the background it’s much more subdued than is typical of Anderson. I liked this change of approach, the realness of Punch-Drunk Love’s characters and themes was enhanced by the more inborn cinematography and camera work. That isn’t to say that every once in a while Anderson didn’t need to have a rainbow flourish, because he most certainly did.

It’s customary in any Anderson film to talk about the themes he handles and how he expresses them. In Punch-Drunk Love I felt the themes were obvious enough and handled so perfectly that I don’t need to go into them here. I did enjoy Anderson’s take on classic romantic comedy moments, especially Barry & Lena’s version of dirty talk, or Barry’s obsession with the pudding and crazy ideas. It’s also quite usual to talk about music in an Anderson film and I was surprised to learn that of all his movies Punch-Drunk Love’s soundtrack and score is the most criticized. I loved the music, particularly the rendition of He Needs Me, employed by composer Jon Brion. It was quite natural and quirky at the same time, very much what I think of when I think of an Anderson film.

I’d like to thank Junior for assigning me Punch-Drunk Love as I now have yet another Paul Thomas Anderson film to love. I don’t think it knocks Boogie Nights from the top of Anderson’s filmography, but it sure does come close. It’s funny, heartfelt, touching, a little scary and full of the quirky sincerity and randomness that Anderson excels at. It’s a must for any Anderson fan, and for someone looking for a different take on the romantic comedy, although even that is a misnomer as I found this be much more of a drama/black comedy than a rom com. Either way, a terrific film, one I was glad to be assigned.

Rating:

***1/2

Cheers,
Bill

2 responses to “Movie Dictator Club: Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

  1. I agree with a lot of your points, I really didn’t think this was a mindblowing stretch on Sandler’s acting chops either. But comedy is his niche and I think he needs to stick to it. Only Jim Carrey can really get away with something like that…minus The Majestic 😛

  2. I don’t know man, having revisited this film recently I think I may have been wrong about Sandler. His performance isn’t mind blowing, but he is really good. This shows that he can do more than stupid comedies, but that’s not really what he wants to do I guess.

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