Punch-Drunk Love movie poster
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Punch-Drunk Love movie poster

Punch-Drunk Love Movie Review

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The comedian's life can be a short one, especially for those who go the way of slapstick humor. Look at Chevy Chase, Leslie Nielsen, or a name that definitely sticks out among the rest, Paulie Shore. Shore was a man who had a string of hits in the early nineties, but all good things come to an end, especially things involving screechy, annoying comedy. He hasn't been seen since. Then there's Adam Sandler, an SNL alumni who has become one of the most profitable actors in Hollywood, despite being considered one of the worst of them. His acting talent aside (no insult meant here; he is, after all, a comedian at heart), he has the great gift of being funny almost all of the time, especially towards the coveted younger audiences. His string of hits include Happy Gilmore, Billy Madison and Big Daddy, each one making more than the last. He was at the top of his game.

But something happened a little while back. Little Nicky, an $80 million comedy, tanked completely (and for good reason). The movie was absolutely horrible, but that shouldn't matter; it starred Adam Sandler, and that should be enough to at least make some money. Sandler's latest film, Mr. Deeds, made lots of money, but it didn't deserve it; his form of comedy is growing old and he knows it. Perhaps it is this realization that all good things come to an end, or that Sandler doesn't want to end up as another nobody five years from now, or that he just doesn't want to be doing the same movies for the rest of his life, that he decided to branch out and take on a role written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (Magnolia), co-starring Emily Watson and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Perhaps Sandler is more sophisticated and intelligent than the critics will admit to.

Punch-Drunk Love is a strange film from a director known for his strange movies (Magnolia's most memorable scene is thousands of frogs falling from the sky), a 180-degree turn from anything Sandler has done before. Sandler plays a loser, but a loser unlike the roles he has played in his "own" movies; here he is a social coward, the owner of an entrepreneurial plunger company based out of a garage, the brother of seven sisters that notify him of just how pathetic he really is. He appears to be obsessive compulsive, depressed, and most noticeably prone to fits of rage. He is Barry Egan, and his life is about to get turned upside down.

Egan calls a sex line, not really wanting to get off on the call - he just wants to talk with someone. Unfortunately, the woman on the other end wants his money, and now she has his credit card number. Canceling it doesn't do the trick, because she and the man she works for think that he's a successful businessman, so they send some thugs to Los Angeles to get the money from him personally. In other news, one of Barry's sister has introduced him to Lena (Watson), an attractive Brit who is interested in a relationship. For some reason she finds Barry intriguing and continues to see him, even after he destroys a restaurant bathroom for seemingly no reason. Oh, and he is also capitalizing on a marketing mistake by Healthy Choices puddings and is going to cash in on a million frequent flyer miles so he will never have to pay for a plane ticket again.

Punch-Drunk Love is a very, very odd movie, though its surface plot is quite clear and its underlying plot - well, it doesn't seem to have a deeper meaning. Anderson is a master of the camera and chooses to focus on the little things to draw reactions from the crowd. He is a great director and knows how to film a movie, but in Punch-Drunk Love he seems to have gone overboard. There is a line where strangeness no longer is artistic and entertaining, and he crosses it within the first five minutes of the film. He never ventures much further from the line, but he never does come back across it until it is too late.

Basically, the movie is pointless. We have this character, this Barry Egan, this pathetic shell of a man, who meets a beautiful woman and falls in love. This love helps normalize him, but only to a point; why are we watching this movie? Egan's problems are never explained and he never really seems to pull himself out of the hole he is in. He accomplishes in defeating some of his faults, but others that are just as important are never fixed. We want to see more closure than this. Punch-Drunk Love is unsatisfying.

The only thing that saves the movie from complete boredom is Adam Sandler. In many respects Sandler has not "increased" his acting talent from any of his other films, but in same ways he has. This character is drastically different from the other losers he has played, and he does an exceptional job of making this Barry Egan complicated, pathetically messed up, and entertaining. Sandler creates a characters where everything works perfectly, where his rages, behavioral habits and even his screams coincide. Most of all, in a movie that is made up of nothing, he at least brings something to the table worth feasting upon.

There are times when Punch-Drunk Love is funny... When Sandler breaks three sliding glass doors, where he asks a dentist for psychological help, where he carries a broken phone around for what seems like a day... There are just so many long sequences where the film isn't interesting. The last half hour is a little better than the rest, as Sandler comes face-to-face with the thugs that are trying to scam him and beats the crap out of them, but then the movie ends without tying up all of the loose ends.

Punch-Drunk Love is a weird movie, and so it is not for everyone. However, I am someone who tends to enjoy the strange movies, and aside from Sandler himself, I did not find Punch-Drunk Love all that enjoyable. It is on the verge of being something hilarious, but never quite finds its niche.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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