Punch-Drunk Love

Punch-Drunk Love


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Adam Sandler in an arthouse movie? No waaaay!

Paul Thomas Anderson is remembered for Boogie Nights and the baffling, but brilliant, Magnolia. With his latest, Punch-Drunk Love, he overdoses on wacko and underdoses on plot. Sandler is miscast, not because he can't act, but because of who he is. Fans of The Waterboy and Happy Gilmore will shake their heads in disbelief and fans of niche indy flicks will be upset by the presence of the man who made Big Daddy.

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An inexplicable atmosphere infuses the film. Barry (Sandler) is obviously out to lunch. His mind floats on an oozing swamp of inadequacy. He's afraid of people, socially inept, probably insane and capable of spontaneous acts of entrepreneurial eccentricity, as when he buys a pallet of chocolate mousses in order to cash in on their air miles offer.

He says he runs his own business from a low rent industrial unit down a cul-de-sac in a bland suburban district at the buttend of Los Angeles, but you don't know what it is. He wears a royal blue suit, which astonishes his seven sisters, who are not used to seeing him in formal attire. He talks on the telephone a whole lot, including to a sex chat line, which ends in disappointment, since he is naive to the purpose of it, and trouble, when the chat people attempt to blackmail him.

Into this world of Barry comes Lena (Emily Watson), an unusual English girl, who fancies him rotten - no explanation is provided for such an emotional aberration. Barry behaves like a beetroot in a fruit basket. If he's out of place at his sisters' party, he's over his head with this love malarky.

The film is all style and no trousers. Sandler might have been Jim Carrey, a child/ man mugging his way through the adult maze, except there is something sinister about Barry, a repressed anger that bursts forth with terrifying suddenness. Is he a psychopath? Does Lena know what she's getting into?

Anderson is unusual in a unique way, which gives Punch-Drunk Love its distinct originality, despite the story making no sense and the romance feeling contrived. Watson is given so little to work with, she can't do much, other than look interesting.

Sandler flirts with his alter ego, the half-baked fool he has played in so many stupid movies, and yet you feel Anderson's influence forcing him down darker alleys. Some might find this a defining performance, others will be irritated by his comedic tics. He's wrong for the role and he's right - at the same time. It's odd. But then, so is the film.

Reviewed on: 05 Feb 2003
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Punch-Drunk Love packshot
Adam Sandler is a disturbed loner in a blue suit who is full of fear and suppressed rage
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Read more Punch-Drunk Love reviews:

Jennie Kermode ****

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Writer: Paul Thomas Anderson

Starring: Adam Sandler, Emily Watson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Luis Guzmán, Ashley Clark, Jason Andrews, Don McManus, David Schrempf, Seann Conway, Rico Bueno, Hazel Mailloux, Karen Kilgariff

Year: 2002

Runtime: 94 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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