Punch-Drunk Love

Punch-Drunk Love


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Before encountering this peculiar little gem, I had never expected that I would ever go to see an Adam Sandler film and like it. It's a rare thing also to encounter a romantic comedy which is both romantic and comic, though it is scarcely so in the ways which audiences have been trained to expect; as a result, Punch Drunk Love has become a sleeper hit, offending and scaring away its initial audience; then gradually, though word of mouth, attracting a new one. Much of what happens in this film is deeply unpleasant, and not funny in the least, despite the veneer of slapstick; but that appears to be exactly what the film-makers intended. Humour is present on a different level. This is a deeply affectionate, life-affirming story, and it has the strange effect of making all sorts of other mildly unpleasant things seem funny afterwards.

As a romantic tale, Punch Drunk Love pulls out all the stops: this is the story of a man with very limited self-control, a man of wild passions - a man who will cross oceans on a whim to be with the woman he adores, and a man who will give vent to intense violent rages following apparently minor provocation. This man is psychotic, and the film is about how he learns to interact with the world despite that. It comes as something of a relief, after so much Hollywood tripe about mental illness, that he is never cured, nor made to seem fluffy. His different take on the world is established from the outset with stunning use of lighting and cinematography. Sometimes the structure of the film breaks down altogether and is replaced by vistas of swirling colour and star-spangled skies borrowed from old Hollywood romances. There are similarities to the work of David Lynch and Jocelyn Moorhouse, but this is something entirely fresh.

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Punch Drunk Love doesn't always work. The story is necessarily wayward, like its central characters, and there's limited cohesion between different plot strands. The small scale world in which events take place does, however, create a good strong contrast with the glory of our hero's newly discovered love. There's real chemistry between the leads; Emily Watson turns in a superb performance as a woman whose madness can be glimpsed only when she forgets to control it. It's nice to see such expressive actors in roles of this type. Nobody is pretending to be twenty, so we get personalities and faces with real character. This fits in well with the sub-plot in which our hero is blackmailed by a telephone sex line company, whose workers also come across as real people, neither glamourised nor ridiculed.

Not at all what it says on the box, Punch Drunk Love is a genuine original. Don't miss it.

Reviewed on: 27 Jun 2007
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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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Angus Wolfe Murray ***

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


SSFF 2012

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