Friday, October 8, 2010

Review: Punch-Drunk Love (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2002)

Paul Thomas Anderson is the one of the best directors of his generation and one of the most talented working in the world today. With a resume that boasts Boogie Nights (1997), Magnolia (1999), Punch Drunk Love (2002) and in my opinion the greatest film of the 21st Century to date, There will be Blood (2007), Anderson has proven to be a chameleon, capable of achieving perfection in whichever genre he chooses to pursue. He is the master of collaborating all of the parts that make up a film and squeezing all that he can from them. The performances are no exception. Adam Sandler, in the best performance I have seen him give, is absolutely incredible here.

Seemingly stuck playing immature grown men with relationship issues in all of his films, we do see more of the same here. But we also don't. He captures this nervous, irritable, yet heartfelt individual with such precision and passion that I have all but changed my opinion of the man. It takes a good script and a great director to make it happen, but the man has talent. His performance was good enough to warrant a Golden Globe nomination in fact. I also loved Emily Watson here. She is a pitch-perfect romantic interest and opposite for Sandler's character and the pair share some beautiful moments. Philip Seymour Hoffman, in one of his most memorable roles as the 'Mattress Man', and Luis Guzman provide great support.

This is one of the sharpest, most unique romantic comedies you will ever see, albeit it's not for everyone's tastes. As a bleak comedy, I found myself in complete hysterics numerous times, but also groaning in discomfort. It is often painfully awkward to watch Sandler at work here, but somewhat of a relief to differentiate ourselves from his unfortunate social skills. True to all of Anderson's films, he loves the long continuous take. They frequent here again and really demand skill from the performances. Special mention must also go to the score - an odd little beast, but it works perfectly.

The opening few sequences are disorienting, but only because they are so different, and you aren't sure how to react. They allude to a dream I think, but you soon find out that this is in fact normal in the world we have just entered. In the first few minutes Barry Egan (Sandler), a bumbling small-business owner, witnesses a horrific car accident, is delivered (by mistake) a harmonium, and meets the future girl-of-his dreams, Lena Leonard (Emily Watson), when she drops in her car to the mechanic stationed next to his warehouse. We discover that he has seven overbearing sisters who all ridicule him publicly to friends and that he is a loner with poor social skills, low self-esteem and has a desire to take advantage of a promotional discrepancy by purchasing large quantities of pudding, and ultimately accumulating one million frequent flier miles.

When he calls a phone sex operator to discuss his personal problems anonymously, he is conned into giving over his credit card details and social security number, which results in a scam from the company demanding he pay $750 dollars to fund the operators rent debt. He is frequently hunted by a foursome of henchman, sent by the operator through Dean Trumbell (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a mattress store owner residing in Utah. Through his sister, Elizabeth, Barry is introduced again to Lena, a woman who had expressed interest in Barry and who Elizabeth was trying to set Barry up with. The pair meet for dinner and connect, and Barry, fueled by the power of love, pursues Lena to Hawaii, and despite a few setbacks (his pursuers), ultimately wins the heart of Lena.

Anderson won Best Director at Cannes for his work here, and it is a small overlooked gem. It is an expression of great skill and ambition. Not easily accessible for the common audience, it certainly has it's own unique charms and unsettling techniques of expression. I am a fan of all of Anderson's work and I find his use of the camera to be mesmerizing. There are memorable moments littered throughout. The scene when Barry first phones the sex line and is pacing around his room quoting his details is impeccable, as is his fit of rage leading to the destruction of the restaurant's toilets, as is the silhouette of Barry and Lena as they embrace in the hotel in Hawaii. His awkward explanations about the harmonium and his pudding collection are also amusing. The moment I don't think I will ever forget is the moment when Luiz Guzman falls off his chair. It is so fleeting, and unexpected. Hilarious. Everyone should make the effort to see all of Anderson's films and if you are a Sandler fan, this is the best you will ever see him. Now I need to find out who was responsible for that score.

My Rating: 5 Stars

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