Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

Written and Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

“I have a love in my life. It makes me stronger than anything you can imagine.”

The Disc

Hey, it’s out first two-disc set of the series! What does that mean? Well, it wears its romance theme on its sleeve, with the stunning silhouette of Sandler and Watson having a clinch in Hawaii. The way their shadows are intertwined like that is just lovely – like The Searchers, only romantic, y’know?

The extra disc has a featurette, three deleted scenes, a photo montage, teasers and trailers, so while it’s a two-disc set, it’s not really filled with bells and whistles.

However, there’s a beautiful ten-page booklet inside, with bright, bold artwork that reflects the editing choices made in the film, along with some projection notes from Paul Thomas Anderson himself (to paraphrase… make sure Sandler’s suit is really blue, his shirt is really white, the blacks are as black as they’ll go and the volume is LOUD).

There’s also a note to suggest the extras disc will play in a random order if you make the right clicks. Really odd extra, but kinda fits with the tone of the film.

Why Did I Get This?

A receipt falls out of the booklet to remind me when I bought this – January 23, 2009 – and where – a charity shop in Sheffield.

I reckon I probably saw this for the first time in 2002/2003, when I worked in a video shop (remember them?!), to make some money while studying at university, and remember being surprised that there was more to Adam Sandler than the noisy manchild I’d seen in his output to that point.

In fairness, I was basing that opinion on Happy Gilmore (which is great), and probably Little Nicky (which is not), which were also in fairly constant rotation at the video shop.

With regards Anderson’s other work, I was a pretty big Magnolia fan too, and while I haven’t seen that in a while, the soundtrack lives rent-free in my head. I enjoyed some elements of Boogie Nights (not those elements, get your mind out of the gutter), though I haven’t really kept up with much of his output since There Will Be Blood.

Right then, at a nice, crisp 91 minutes, let’s roll…

The Late Review

As always, the Late Review will cover the film from start to finish in depth, so it’s pretty long, and you can expect spoilers below – scroll straight to the next heading to avoid them!

Right off the bat, we get a vintage Dolby sound logo, which seems pretty fitting knowing PTA’s love of cinema, then we’re into Barry (Sandler), sitting alone at a desk in the corner of a room.

The colours are beautiful – simple grey and vibrant blues on the walls and Barry’s suit, with the blackest shadows you’ve ever seen. Even if you hadn’t read the projection notes in the booklet you’d notice them, they’re so striking.

Likewise, this part of the movie is set in an industrial estate where Barry sells plumbing goods, but a few steps outside there’s a stunning Los Angeles sunrise over some unique architecture, it’s Anderson really finding the beautiful in the mundane.

The early morning peace is violently shattered by an impressive car crash (which comes out of nowhere), and a yellow cab dropping a harmonium into the middle of the road.

Remember, PTA made Magnolia, so his love of coincidence and random happenings comes pretty much as standard.

Sandler eyeing up the abandoned instrument like the apes from 2001 makes me laugh, then here comes Emily Watson, glowing beautifully in the sunlight as she convinces him to take her keys and make sure the garage next door sorts her car out. As she leaves, he ducks into his building gasping for air, utterly shocked that someone as stunning as Emily Watson would speak to him.

Yeah, seems like a fair reaction.

We get a few more beautifully-framed shots of Barry gawping at the harmonium, before he grabs it and runs into his building with his coffee mug in his mouth, lolloping along in a very cartoony and entertaining way.

Hey, Luiz Guzman’s in this! He’s always entertaining, though I’d completely forgotten about him. He’s asking Sandler why he’s wearing a suit, and the response is: “I bought one. I thought it would be nice to get dressed up for work. I’m not sure why.”

Next, we’re introduced to Barry’s sisters… sort of. He’s got seven of them, he tells a customer as three of them phone him at work within minutes of each other, causing him to get flustered and embarrass himself, before one actually turns up at his work to check he’s attending the family gathering that night. She looks like Chloe from 24, but this whole thing’s whipping by so fast I don’t have time to check. ‘Chloe’ physically backs Barry into a corner while sounding him out about setting him up with a blind date – it’s not the most subtle physical cue, but it works.

As Sandler gingerly makes his way through the door of his sister’s home, we can hear all seven of them chattering and mocking him, fondly recalling when they called him a homophobic slur as a kid until he did something terrible with a hammer.

This continues as I think to myself “man, seven sisters is too many”, and Sandler’s nervous energy builds along with the cacophony of shrill voices until it’s too much – something’s got to break, and it’s Barry, as he brutally smashes a bunch of floor to ceiling windows to silence the crowd. Shocking though it is, it’s beautifully framed (no pun intended), with a picture of Barry visible on the wall in the background.

Barry clearly has some mental health problems, but he knows enough to know that. He tells his brother-in-law he doesn’t know “how other people are”, and asking if he can recommend a psychiatrist, before explaining he sometimes cries for no reason then crying for – if you ask me, a pretty good reason.

It’s okay to not be okay, kids.

Right then, because we’re being quirky again, Sandler’s now at a supermarket looking for the cheapest product he can find to manipulate a loophole in an Air Mile promotion. It’s brightly lit, he’s in bright blue, and there’s a woman way out of focus in the background wearing a bright red dress.

If I were a betting man, I’d wager that’s Emily Watson representing Sandler’s subconscious desire for her, but I’m not so let’s leave that as baseless speculation, yeah?

Back at Sandler’s apartment, he’s nervously phoning a sexy chat line, and it gets awkward fairly quickly – first, it takes forever to give his credit card details (although he does know his credit card number off by heart – who does that?!), then when he gets through to his ‘date’, she’s only interested in getting him off, while he’s just up for a chat.

Interesting choices made with the camera here – it’s pretty much locked off, with Sandler pacing nervously in and out of frame, but occasionally pans around, gets more mobile and wobbly as the chat becomes more awkward.

The next morning, the woman phones back and asks him for money (he told her his business was going well), and Sandler is framed in his hallway, backing up against a wall just like when his sister was pressuring him at work. Again, it’s not subtle, but it’s nicely done.

Hey, now Guzman’s wearing a suit for work! Also, there are hundreds and hundreds of little chocolate pudding pots stacked up outside Barry’s office for the Air Mile scam.

Barry’s pacing angrily, upset about the chatline scam, then calms down as he fixes the harmonium with some heavy duty tape. But he’s not calm for long as his sister (Chloe?!), turns up with Emily Watson – turns out she’s called Lena and she would’ve been the blind date, if Barry hadn’t bottled it.

Lovely pratfall from Sandler there as he rushes to avoid his sister.

Jon Brion’s score, initially soft and plinky-plonky (that’s a technical term), becomes more and more frantic during Barry’s sister’s visit, as does the camera, as do the performers and the dialogue. It’s like a panic attack in film form, making me anxious just sitting here.

The women leave, but the camera follows Watson to her car… she pauses… and heads back inside to ask Sandler to dinner!!! Aww, that’s lovely, and he accepts gratefully. Things are looking up!

Wait, now the phone sex lady has rung back and told him he’s started a war. Bugger.

Now we cut to the much-missed Philip Seymour Hoffman, who owns a mattress store and runs the phone line. He’s briefing his troops (a bunch of hillbillies, brothers to the phone sex operator), and instructing them to scare some money out of Barry.

Christ, Hoffman was great. He did slimeball terrifically, but anyone who’s seen Magnolia knows he had heart to spare too. Never less than fascinating to watch.

Meanwhile, Sandler and Watson are on their date, sharing awkward small talk in a restaurant booth – Barry’s telling her in great detail about his favourite breakfast DJ and his Air Mile scam, and it’s going surprisingly well…

… until Lena mentions his sister told her about the hammer story. Sandler plays this brilliantly, the blood practically disappears from his face as he denies all knowledge and just about holds it together at the table, before heading to the bathroom where he utterly destroys every fixture he can reach. He’s an intimidating guy when he wants to be, I can see why Tarantino said he wanted him for Inglourious Basterds.

He leaves the wrecked bathroom and returns to the table, until the impeccably polite manager asks for a word, takes him aside and asks him to leave. It’s played for laughs as Sandler denies smashing up the joint, despite having bloodied hands, and the manager’s politeness ends when he threatens to “crack your fucking skull open” if he doesn’t leave.

Having worked in customer service in a previous life, I can only imagine the satisfaction that kind of statement would bring.

They leave the restaurant as an incredibly well-lit lorry passes by and the music swells, and it’s pretty much perfect old-school Hollywood romance – Sandler’s charming and vulnerable, Watson’s eager and nervous, and he leaves her at her apartment door.

Before he can leave the building, she phones the front desk to get hold of him and tells him she wanted to kiss him – so he frantically races around the building trying to find her apartment again. Sandler running through these identical, grey corridors is, as per the rest of the film, shot beautifully.

Watson’s leaving for Hawaii the next day, so Barry returns home… where he’s immediately kidnapped by Hoffman’s goons and taken to a cash machine and forced to withdraw money for them, then gets punched to the ground. Before he runs away screaming down Expressionistic alleyways (all shadows and skewed angles – brilliant!), he realises he’s in the car park of a 99 cent store.

The next thing we see is Sandler dancing through the aisles of the store, filling trolleys with chocolate pudding – so all in all, yes, he got robbed and beaten, but he got to kiss Emily Watson and received new inspiration for his Air Mile scam, so the night wasn’t a total write-off.

Back in his office, he wants to use his Air Miles to fly to Hawaii and surprise Watson, but after finding out it’ll take six weeks to process the coupons, he loses his temper and puts his fist through a wall.

Now I’ve seen this film a few times, but this was the first time I spotted that when he pulls his hand out of the wall, the cuts on his knuckles sort of, kinda, maybe spell out L-O-V-E. Funny, nice touch.

Even though he can’t use the Air Miles, Barry decides to fly to Hawaii anyway, in a huge romantic gesture which plays out to Shelley Duvall singing He Needs Me from the 1980 movie version of Popeye. I’ll be honest, the whole ‘getting to the airport’ bit is sweet, but that song grates after a while.

Anyway, there’s a moment as he’s sitting on the plane where he’s clearly nervous where I’m worried he’s going to go ‘Full Sandler’, but no, the next thing we know he’s in Hawaii tracking down Watson via a payphone with the help (through a quick threat), of his sister.

They finally meet up, silhouetted in a doorway (see poster), and he goes for the handshake, but Watson pulls him straight in for a kiss and there’s a sudden rush of people passing them by as they embrace, and it’s utterly lovely.

I’d forgotten how sweet this film is.

At dinner, Sandler says: “Really looks like Hawaii here.” But all I can think is, ‘maybe, but it looks bloody cold at night’.

They walk back to Watson’s room and their hands brush awkwardly, before he reaches out to hold hers. An iris closes the screen down to focus on their hands, and it’s just lovely. The film could end there, and I’d be happy. It’d be short, but I’d be happy.

But if it did end there, we’d be denied the all-time worst pillow-talk in history!

Barry: “I’m lookin’ at your face and I just wanna smash it. I just wanna fuckin’ smash it with a sledgehammer and squeeze it. You’re so pretty.”

Lena: “I want to chew your face, and I want to scoop out your eyes and I want to eat them and chew them and suck on them.”

Barry: “Okay. This is funny. This is nice.”

Christ on a bike.

I get that this is probably meant to be awkward and sweet and inappropriate, but it just smacks of a screenwriter trying too hard to make their script all of those things. It’s something Igby Goes Down suffered with too, in this Late Reviewer’s opinion, but it’s a minor thing in a great film.

Barry makes a call from a payphone and tells the sex line people he wants his money back and won’t go to the police. Can’t see that helping, but he seems happy, and the next thing we’re back at the airport as Barry and Lena return home.

Back on home turf, they’re pulling into Barry’s garage when out of nowhere a truck driven by Hoffman’s hillbillies smashes into his car in an explosion of noise followed by a silent, numbing, spinning effect as Sandler and Watson look at each other as their vehicle spins. I’ve been in cars as they’ve spun off the road, and honestly, this was the closest visual representation I’ve seen of that feeling.

When Barry notices Lena’s head is bleeding, he leaps out of the car and walks towards the thugs before quickly and efficiently beating the shit out of three of the four. He warns the other, then gets back into his knackered car, and there’s another weird/cool camera choice as he closes the door with the camera mounted to it. Weird little touch, but looks cool and adds to the disorientation of the scene.

Back in Barry’s office, he’s having a blazing row over the phone with the sex line operator who puts him through to Hoffman resulting in a surprisingly funny exchange of insults before Barry’s running with an unplugged phone receiver to the hospital, where he finds Lena has been discharged.

Next thing, Barry (and his unplugged phone receiver), is in Utah outside the Mattress Man’s store to settle a few things. Hoffman’s getting a haircut in the back of the shop (I don’t care if it’s deliberately quirky, his repeated and annoyed “ow” as his hair gets tugged tickles me), before getting into a verbal standoff with Barry, who informs him…

Barry: “I didn’t do anything. I’m a nice man. I mind my own business. So you tell me ‘that’s that’ before I beat the hell from you. I have so much strength in me you have no idea. I have a love in my life. It makes me stronger than anything you can imagine. I would say ‘that’s that’, Mattress Man.”

It’s the kind of line that looks ridiculous written down, but Sandler plays it with such restraint and conviction, it’s beautiful and believable.

Hoffman buys it too, and says “that’s that”, and gives a terrific flounce after getting in one final insult across the shop.

Back in Lena’s building, Barry running full pelt through the corridors carrying the harmonium to apologise for abandoning her at the hospital. He tells her the whole story, breathlessly, in less than a minute, and it’s ridiculous but adorable.

We end back at Barry’s office. He’s gently playing the harmonium, Lena hugs him, and we cut to the credits and Jon Brion’s lovely score. Sweet.

Thoughts on the film

First off, this feels very much like a 2002 film, made in that period when there were serious attempts to bring arthouse movies into the mainstream. Make of that what you will, but I dug it.

For better or worse, this film could easily be described as ‘quirky’ – a word I don’t particularly care for, and which has probably been significantly devalued in the last two decades.

In some ways, Punch-Drunk Love reminds me a little of La La Land – mainly through the frothy, jazzy score and the importance of vibrantly-coloured costumes in both films.

It’s light, sweet, and surprisingly romantic for a film that includes two car crashes, three broken windows, one smashed bathroom and a phone sex line.

Adam Sandler and Emily Watson are both superb in this as well, and while Philip Seymour Hoffman’s role is short, he’s ridiculously entertaining to watch.

The Verdict

This one won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but it’s definitely more accessible than some of Paul Thomas Anderson’s other works.

It also showcased Adam Sandler as a Proper Actor nearly twenty years before Uncut Gems (which I have not seen, but have heard nothing but terrific things about).

Highly recommended.

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