Punch-Drunk Love

on October 11, 2002 by Mark Keizer
   The seemingly unholy alliance between brilliant director Paul Thomas Anderson and the inexplicably popular Adam Sandler yields great returns in "Punch-Drunk Love." Although the film is a grab bag of styles and ideas, the viewer is always in the hands of a director who knows exactly what he is doing. Like Steven Soderbergh's "The Limey," "Punch-Drunk Love" is an extremely accomplished toss-off between more ambitious films. Sandler gets the better of the deal by working with such an original director; however he should be commended for taking the role and turning in a great performance. For his part, Anderson proves that even a genre as well-worn as the romantic comedy can exhibit his wholly unique stamp.

   Sandler is perfectly cast as Barry Egan, a melancholy loner who occasionally lapses into moments of extreme physical violence. The owner of a Canoga Park, California novelty-gadget business, Barry has spent life being dominated by his seven sisters. When a car owned by sweet Englishwoman Lena (Emily Watson) breaks down in front of Barry's office, she takes it upon herself to ask him on a date. Later, lonely Barry calls a phone-sex line only to have the woman on the other end blackmail him using his credit card number. The rest of the film charts Lena's pursuit of Barry and Barry's pursuit of the mastermind behind the extortion attempt (Philip Seymour Hoffman).

   Coming in at a tight 95 minutes, "Punch-Drunk Love" swirls with innovative camera moves, aggressive sound and a joyous sense of being taken somewhere new. Sandler, in his loud blue suit and tie, successfully throws some nice shadings onto his doofus persona, while Emily Watson is his lovely and engaging counterpart. Hoffman scores in his few profanity-laden moments, while Guzman is underused but always welcome as Barry's co-worker.

   Leslie Jones' editing is tight and precise while DP Robert Elswit renders Anderson's beloved San Fernando Valley as the nondescript sea of concrete it truly is. Starring Adam Sandler, Emily Watson, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Luis Guzman. Directed and written by Paul Thomas Anderson. Produced by Joanne Sellar, Daniel Lupi and Paul Thomas Anderson. A Columbia release. Romantic comedy. Rated R for strong language including a scene of sexual dialogue. Running time: 95 min

Tags: Adam Sandler, Emily Watson, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Luis Guzman, Directed and written by Paul Thomas Anderson, Produced by Joanne Sellar, Daniel Lupi and Paul Thomas Anderson, Columbia, Romantic comedy

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