Film Review – Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

Title – Punch-Drunk Love (2002) 

Director – Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights) 

Cast – Adam Sandler, Emily Watson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Luis Guzmán

Plot – Lost soul Barry Egan (Sandler) is desperate to find a meaningful relationship in his frustrated life, a chance arises when he meets Lena (Watson). 

“I don’t know if there is anything wrong because I don’t know how other people are”

Review by Eddie on 03/11/2021

In director Paul Thomas Anderson’s oft-spoken about career, there’s a film in his catalogue that never gets the mentions or plaudits the likes of Boogie Nights, There Will be Blood and The Master get, that film is 2002’s Punch-Drunk Love

A collaboration with comedian Adam Sandler, who at the time was still busy making low-brow comedies and finally proved he was more than Rob Schneider’s friend and golf with his performance here as the socially awkward and confused Barry Egan, Love is very much Anderson commanding a pitch black comedy like Boogie Nights and Inherent Vice, as Barry goes about collecting packs of frequent flyer puddings, calling questionable phone lines and trying to work out a new found potential romance with Emily Watson’s Lena. 

It’s a slight film, very much a character driven escapade rather than an incident driven one, with a highlight of spectacle a worried Egan running from some low level criminals through the backstreets, Love is an awkward little film about awkward little people but there’s also a heart and soul to this tale of a wounded soul that shows a softer side to both Sandler and Anderson as we can’t help but wish the best for Barry as his personal crisis reaches a tipping point full of smashed windows, quick trips to Hawaii and restaurant restroom meltdowns. 

As is always the case with an Anderson film, the performances of his core cast are all of the highest order, with Sandler up there with the best his been before or since while Watson, the late Philip Seymour Hoffman and the always enjoyable Luis Guzman getting their time to shine in a small-scale film that is wonderfully shot by D.O.P Robert Elswit, creating a dreamlike/nightmarish like vision of Barry’s life that is struggling to stay on the tracks. 

Almost twenty years ahead of the much lauded Sandler hit Uncut Gems, watching Love now makes one think these two films are perfectly suited to a double bill of tension rattling escapades with Sandler front and center as a crumbling man trying to keep his head above water in seemingly insurmountable odds, with both efforts proving Sandler is much more than we often get from the laconic figure who often gets far too comfortable going for the lowest hanging fruit when he could be pushing himself to be more than what audiences expect from the well-liked figure. 

Final Say – 

A curious little film that never reaches for anything grand but creates a unique and often charming off-kilter affair, Punch-Drunk Love isn’t high class Anderson but it’s an effort worthy of re-watch or first time viewing all the same. 

3 1/2 boxes of pudding out of 5  

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