Punch Drunk Love - 2002
Director(s): Paul Thomas Anderson
Writer(s): Paul Thomas Anderson
Cinematography by: Robert Elswit
Editor(s): Leslie Jones
Cast: Adam Sandler, Emily Watson, Luis Guzman, Mary Lynn Rajskub and Philip Seymour Hoffman
I try to stay away from overused blanket statements such as; the worst/best of all-time, but when talking about Paul Thomas Anderson, it is hard not to drape him with the blanket of one of the greatest writer-directors of all-time. Consistently delivering complex, nuanced and intensely captivating films every time he is at bat, PTA is the very definition of a modern classic. This year I want to talk about more about his films, as last year's Phantom Thread still haunts my thoughts from time to time. How about we start with the one that gets lost in the shuffle of PTA, and that is 2002's Punch Drunk Love.
The story follows Barry Egan (Sandler) a lonely single man who owns a company that sells themed toilet plungers. He suffers from social anxiety and repressed anger due to his seven overbearing sisters. One night he decides to call a sex hotline, not for the sexual aspect of the deal, but the company. This company turns out to be a scam, and they are blackmailing him for more money. His life becomes a tangled mess when he falls in love with his sister's co-worker, Lena (Watson), and must find a way to get out of the blackmail scheme before Lena gets hurt. Oh, and there is a lot of chocolate pudding.
The summary I made may sound crazy, but when you watch the film, every single piece falls into place, creating this hectic symphony that overwhelms Barry and the audience to the point that you are just as tentative and neurotic as him. PTA also trust the audience to connect the dots through subtle cues to what is driving Barry to the brink. The use of the phone ring is my favorite as it is presented the driving force of intrusion in his life. From the barrage of calls from his sister to the harassment from the sex hotline, Barry cannot seem to escape his problems.
Quick note: while this film deals with heavy themes of depression and social anxiety - it is easily PTA's funniest film to date. Utilizing Sandler's comedic timing to perfection and harnessing the rage comedy he is famous for to a more subdued and palatable one.
PTA also uses the score by the brilliant Jon Brion to drive home Barry's state of mind. A percussive score that is seemingly disconnected, featuring seemingly random noises (duct tape and bells) that create an uneasy feeling for the audience, placing them inside of Barry's head. It is maddening and overwhelming, and you cannot escape it or ignore it. You are fighting the score, trying to focus on the conversations, on the visuals and the emotions. The score becomes substantially less hectic as the romance between Lena and Barry, signaling the calmness her presence brings to his world.
When it comes to the visual language of films - PTA can teach any film student how to maximize each frame. Visual elements that PTA employed tell a more in-depth story than all the screams and f-bombs used by the character he wrote. From the use of color, Barry always in is the blue suit (sadness/loneliness) contrasted by Lena's red color (passion/love) to the blocking of his scenes. The opening scene being the best and most straightforward example of the film, placing Barry in the farthest corner of a dimly lit room, talking on the phone with the representatives of the pudding company. You are immediately drawn to him, the blue calling your attention, yet he is too far to make out, understand or even identify. That is the same distance Barry has with everyone and everything around him. Contrast that scene with the one when Barry joins Lena in Hawaii. As they embrace in this long and heart-pounding kiss, there are countless onlookers closely passing by, and a beautiful bright blue ocean of Hawaii lights the background. The world is closer to him, passing rapidly by, yet the only thing and the only one he cares about is Lena.
This review is getting too long, and I have barely scratched the surface. I could do another full review talking about the blocking, the foreshadowing and the acting from Adam Sandler, but I'm going to cut it short. Punch Drunk Love is one of PTA's greatest works. All the elements that go into the language of cinema are used to their fullest advantage, creating an experience for the viewer that rewards them for watching it multiple times. You pick up on the countless details PTA placed on each frame, each line of dialogue and each transition leaving you in awe that he crammed such a dense film in just an hour and a half runtime. Go watch this modern classic, now!
Punch Drunk Love is Why I Love Movies.
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