A nervously romantic comedy delivered in colorfully bold strokes, Punch-Drunk Love tells the story of a socially awkward loner that finds strength in love. Paul Thomas Anderson, one of the greatest directors of our generation, paints us an original piece of art that touches us with humor and the ideal version of love, from the viewpoint of the unorthodox ways of life. Adam Sandler delivers his best performance yet, as Barry Egan, and Anderson is at his sharpest, pulling the strings.
Director Anderson’s style is simply beautiful. He paints the silver-screen with a tint of royal blue, and nicely brings out the details of the actors telling faces, to cleanly capture their pain and happiness, utilizing shadows. The sudden musical beats, as well as subtle sounds, such as isolated drums, are wonderfully utilized to project Barry’s feelings. It’s as if the soundtrack is being orchestrated by Barry’s heart. There are also wonderfully poetic touches, such as when the screen cuts to a kaleidoscope of colors dancing to the music’s rhythm. The camera is swooping and trailing, always actively following the characters. Anderson also builds up moments of eerie tension very well, especially with Barry’s conversations with the mysterious woman working for a phone sex hotline.
Sandler shines as Barry Egan, a loner bullied by his seven sisters, as he is trying hard to make connections in life. In a way, he’s a child trapped in a man’s body, where that child inside slowly grows throughout the film to fill out his shell, with the help of true love. Egan is a plunger salesman, dressed in the same blue suit everyday, fumbling his way through life. Sandler is perfect in subtly projecting his paranoia in trying to appear socially fine, when inside he’s truly paranoid about how he appears to others, leading him to be passive-aggressive. He speaks with a child’s fear, low and unsure, and he tries so hard to avoid conflict. His whole life changes when he meets Lena, Emily Watson, as she accepts him, awkwardness and all, and even falls for him. Watson is a confident initiator, and we can’t help but get lost in her hypnotizing blue eyes, along with Barry.
Punch Drunk Love is a familiar tale, told through an uniquely odd plot, about the power love potentially has. It gives Barry Egan something he’s never had before: confidence. Barry is somewhat of an underdog, and when love empowers him to overcome his social obstacles, his actions become cheer-worthy. Sandler’s Barry is such a pathetic, although likable, character that when he succeeds through the “power of love” we are lifted by the fairy tale of the ideal version of love that makes it easier to believe in; and it may just influence some viewers to make it real. The film may just sweep you off of your feet, but unlike other romantic comedies, it will be a novel experience.
This is not your typical Adam Sandler comedy, so don’t expect Adam Sandler to be himself (although some of his trademark antics are incorporated, but in a different light). This is also not your typical love story, as it is simply different. The story isn’t typical in any way, and that might put off some people expecting a by-the-books love story. The comedy is also more subtle than laugh out loud, and less in-your-face than other Sandler movies.
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