Punch-Drunk Love (2002)
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Review Date: October 07, 2002
Director: P.T. Anderson
Writer: P.T. Anderson
Producers: P.T. Anderson, Daniel Lupi, Joanne Sellar
Adam Sandler as Barry Egan
Emily Watson as Lena Leonard
Philip Seymour Hoffman as Dean Trumbell
A strange man who works hard, has seven annoying sisters and doesn't really seem to have much direction in his life, meets a cute girl who for some reason or another, takes a liking to him. The two flirt, date and ultimately talk about traveling to Hawaii together? Oh yeah, the man is also being harassed by a phone-sex operation that he called on a whim one night. Punch drunken love ensues?
Credit director P.T. Anderson for trying something "out there" with his new project. Credit actor/comedian Adam Sandler for taking on such a different role than his usual man-child idiot character and convincing us in the part. Credit actress Emily Watson for climbing aboard a film that really doesn't ask much of her other than to look cute and act adorable (both of which she does formidably, I might add). But discredit everyone involved for creating a somewhat pretentious, somewhat boring, somewhat empty film that, once all is said and done, doesn't really bring anything special to the forefront. Sure, P.T. provides us with a few surreal moments, an atypical performance by Sandler and a handful of laughs via Phil Seymour Hoffman and others (the obscenity-fueled phone conversation between he and Sandler is one of the film's few highlights), but ultimately it just felt like it was "showing off" most of the time, like it was supposed to be deep and insightful, when really...it wasn't. Sandler's character is also one of the jumpiest dudes that you're likely to meet on the big screen this year. Sure, he's a nice guy, but he's also got a loaded temper, he's extremely fidgety and watching him squirm all the time just made me feel like scratching myself. Does that make any sense? Kudos do go out to Sandler for making his man so peculiar though, but that doesn't mean that he was especially "enjoyable" to watch. In fact, he was just too nervous for my liking. The film also seems to want to be a romance, but I barely registered anything on that front either.

The chemistry between Sandler and Watson was decent, but not enough time was spent with Watson, and we never really got to know much about her (like why she would fall so hard for this total wacko??). Anderson also over-accentuated their "special" moments together with a sweeping score that would make Oliver Stone's work seem subtle in comparison. Okay, we get it P.T...something "special" is happening. So how come I don't feel anything? The film's also saddled with one of the most annoying scores that I've ever heard, specifically during one frantic scene featuring Sandler in his office, trying to maintain his cool while multi-tasking. The score is meant to bolster the scene's frenetic nature (which it does, to a certain extent), but what it ultimately did, in my point of view, was overtake the entire sequence and take me out along with it. It's not even a "score" really, it just sounded like a bunch of weird noises all pasted together. Not my bag. After the extended and laborious shoot that was the magnificent and character-heavy MAGNOLIA, it feels as though Anderson shut himself in a room for a week and a half with a whole lotta coffee, cigarettes and maybe even some "funny cigarettes" and wrote what essentially is a two-person play that doesn't really go anywhere. He seems to have wanted to create a bizarre fairy tale, with a couple of strange sequences slapped in for effect, like a car flipping over in the middle of the road or Sandler kung-fu'ing a gang of thugs, but you don't really know if you should be taking it all seriously or not. It also features a ludicrous subplot involving a phone-sex operation, blackmail and a man who runs a mattress store, which starts off as a somewhat amusing side-note, but ultimately goes overboard and never really connected to the rest of the story.

Basically, if this was the work of a first-time director, most people would likely be telling him to go fuck himself, but since it's P.T. Anderson, the upper-crust are applauding his avante-garde nature (the French adored it in Cannes!) and hailing him as a "genius" once again (I actually agree that the man is a genius, but not with this pic). In fact, this is the perfect example of a picture that most "film critics" will likely adore and most regular audiences will likely snore through. I loved both BOOGIE NIGHTS and MAGNOLIA, and totally dig on Anderson's vibe, but he just lost me with this one. A disappointment. Very little substance, less style than usual, some solid performances, some laughs and one decent tune ("He needs me, he needs me..."), but overall, a small "experimental" film with very little true romance or heartfelt emotion. Others may brush it off as pretentious self-indulgence (stick that piano where the sun don't shine), but I'd prefer to check it off as a misstep and a nice try. Good move for Sandler though and thankfully for us, it only lasts half as long as the 3-hour opus that was the brilliant MAGNOLIA.
(c) 2018 Berge Garabedian

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