Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Mar 08, 2003 3:19 pm 
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A new mix from a young master

Paul Thomas Anderson has produced a sweet little quirky romance this time - but one with edges of insanity and menace Peter Bogdonovitch never dreamed of. This particular romance comes wrapped in a jarring comedy brightened up with big splashes of neurasthenia and rage. What's endearing about this movie is that it's so unpredictable and strange. Anderson is a cinematic genius and when he makes a movie, magic happens. He cannot be anything but original. This isn't another 'Hard Eight,' another 'Boogie Nights,' another 'Magnolia'; it's something quite different with some elements of the earlier films recombined with new material in an utterly peculiar way.

Barry Egan (Adam Sandler), is a timid young man with no social life living in the San Fernando Valley and running an absurd warehouse business that sells decorated toilet plungers. He's a compulsive fellow prone to crying fits and plagued by agoraphobic tics. Barry's tormented by seven sisters who nag him and call him "gay boy" because he's not a success with women. At the film's end, he becomes the lover of Emily Watson and is capable of feats of great strength.

Along the way, as in 'Magnolia,' Anderson runs concurrent themes that collide oddly and sometimes dangerously: the love affair with the English businesswoman (Ms. Watson) who goes to Hawaii; the Utah phone porn gang who become extortionists; the food-coupon-for-airline-mileage scam Barry discovers and clumsily exploits; the seven abusive sisters; Barry's halfway successful business, his chronic insecurity, his comforting harmonium stolen off the street.

Sharp featured yet neutral, energetic yet inept, Adam Sandler's Barry is everyman as hopeful nerd. There's something both disquieting and reassuring about Sandler here, because he is strange, but looks -- and for the most part is -- so ordinary. There's nothing queasy or repulsive about him, no ugly inner life, no nastiness or kookiness. He's no Andy Kaufman, just a guy trapped in a nowhere life and a tight blue suit. This is a subtle, fresh performance. Startlingly repressed, Sandler jerks and pops around in tiny motions like a bird. His Barry tries to be nice, but is so withdrawn he's rarely ingratiating. Though he's often more funny-peculiar than funny-ha ha, Barry can nonetheless often make us laugh, and in doing so he acquires an odd charm. His Charlie Chaplin dance down the supermarket aisle when he's buying pudding to earn frequent flier miles isn't lost on us: he's on the verge of becoming an endearing clown.

But then he has those crying jags, and he trashes things, and when he gets really, REALLY mad he can smash four men's heads in (four blond brothers') in 20 seconds. Often his scenes are accompanied by irritating percussive music (also quite original, by John Brion) that at times is little more than noise, and the movie is full of violent crashes of boxes falling, cars colliding, large panes of glass being smashed, restaurant bathrooms being trashed. It's worse than a rain of frogs. The sudden movement of noisy objects in a silent field recalls Jacques Tati's Luddite fantasies, but this isn't the appealing ineptitude of a Monsieur Hulot: Barry is empowered by his repressed rage and can be a decisive force when aroused. It's also the power of love.

One may ask if Anderson's movie can hold all he's put in it. Those who think it's too short aren't watching. It's punctuated by excruciatingly long moments from the start. And it's got all those concurrent themes and opposites colliding. It's not an easy ride for the viewer. Until Barry and Lena Leonard (Emily Watson) are together in Honolulu holding hands, the romance is pretty iffy and the movie hasn't been very much fun -- not in any conventional sense, anyway. Like 'Magnolia,' the movie slides quickly between naivete and sleaze, manic and depressive. The opening sequence is a scene of defiant blankness almost worthy of Antonioni, with Barry popping in and out of his generic-looking warehouse like a chicken pecking for grain, and this is a harbinger of the amount of conventional entertainment the audience is getting offered (precious little), till the pratfalls brighten things up.

Though Chaplinesque around the edges, Adam Sandler is not ultimately a victim but a force in this movie. You keep coming back to him but you can't get to the bottom of him. His Barry Egan is a brilliantly original -- and ultimately enigmatic -- creation that adds to the vocabulary of film. It may be that 'Punch Drunk Love' is best seen as a critique of Adam Sandler movies. On its own, it is utterly fresh, but hard to digest. P.T. Anderson is the most original American filmmaker now working. The short duration of this movie is deceptive: it provides a lot to chew on.

November 4, 2002

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Last edited by cknipp on Mon Apr 02, 2007 12:22 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Tue Jun 08, 2004 10:32 am 

Joined: Wed Nov 26, 2003 12:35 pm
Posts: 7
Older movie (2 years) but I thought I'd say your review is bang-on (again)

Punch-Drunk Love is P.T.'s best film (so far). I bought the DVD and watched it again, the first time since I saw it at the theatre and it is one of the best films in recent years. The COLORS! The PACING! The SCORE!

All interesting, all cinematic, all GREAT. Sandler might never be in a movie this good again. The cinematography is sharp- the scene where he leaves the warehouse and the camera pirouettes around him and he stares down the empty lane is perfect. City of God had some similar shots...

All in all I don't have anything more to add to your review- you covered all the bases Chris. Just wanted to add that I also think it's endearing, unpredictable and strange. (Not to mention extremely visually engaging).
I look forward to Anderson's furure films.

"I always direct the same film"- Federico Fellini

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