PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE (2002)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 35 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Language including a Scene of Sexual Dialogue

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Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson

Written by: Paul Thomas Anderson

Starring: Adam Sandler, Emily Watson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Luis Guzman

PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE is a great date movie. There I said it! I usually can’t stand Adam Sandler’s antics and the same annoying routine he pulls in almost every one of his movies, but I was rooting for his socially awkward persona this time around. Director/writer Paul Thomas Anderson weaves an impressive piece of filmmaking. This is a classic love story at its core with a very oddball layer covering it. It’s been called a romantic comedy by a lot of people and I can kind of see certain moments fitting that description. However, I wouldn’t call it anything other than a genuine romance. There’s a little suspense and some quirky laughs, but the film is mostly filled with that most powerful emotion of all: LOVE.

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Barry Egan is a socially awkward small business owner. His family consists of seven unbearable sisters who pry, annoy and pick on him at every turn. It is in Lena Leonard, that Barry finds himself stricken with the undeniable feeling of love and though he’s too shy to step up and engage her, she feels the same way about him. Unfortunately for Barry, a previously used phone-sex line tries to take advantage of him. He’s romancing Lena, but trouble is brewing with the degenerate phone-sex line supervisor attempting to violently extort Barry.

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PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE almost seems like a trimmed down version of a contemporary romantic classic. The main complaints I have with the film come in the underdeveloped Lena. She comes off as a really good person. I just wish I knew more about her. Then there’s Philip Seymour Hoffman as the main antagonist and he’s sadly regulated to about three scenes. The romance between Barry and Lena was first and foremost, as it should have been, but it seems like the potential of Hoffman’s character was wasted. I wanted to see more of him in the same way I wanted to see more of Jesus in THE BIG LEBOWSKI. He steals all three of the scenes he’s in though and two of them are lengthy.

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Adam Sandler belongs in the same category as Robin Williams and Jim Carrey. All three actors are primarily known for putting on the same shtick, but they all have real talent in serious roles. Sandler disappears into the character of Barry Egan and I was rooting for him to come out on top every step of the way. He even got a few real laughs out of me, along with the constant frustration experienced from his predicament. There is an appropriately odd feeling around the entire film. This is partially supplied by the fantastic score that seems to have been ripped right from a 1950’s-era Hollywood romance.

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Everything about the film is a bit off and this is an entirely good thing. Paul Thomas Anderson is a director who seems focused on delivering stories we’ve never seen before and films he wants to make. There have been plenty of clichéd romances released every year, but Anderson works his magic and makes PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE something really special. Everyone deserves love in their life and this includes socially awkward emotionally damaged people. This is part of what makes Barry such a great character and we see the absolute impact this newfound woman is having on his life. She’s also completely understanding that he’s a weird guy and loves him for it. For example, I don’t think there’s a single scene we see Sandler in that he’s not wearing a blue suit. He bought the outfit to look like a professional business owner.

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PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE is exactly what it’s title promises. There’s suspense, some laughs, and a touching relationship between two people who seem made for each other. Some of the characters could have been a little more developed, as I would have liked to see more time dedicated to showing the viewer just who Lena really was and Philip Seymour Hoffman deserved far more scenes than he received. As a finished project, the film plays out like a classic love story in a very misshapen mold. It’s a wholly uplifting experience that will leave you a hopeless romantic by the conclusion and that’s the best compliment I can give a film like this. It’s far from perfect, but it’s one I can see myself revisiting many times again in the future. Cuddle up next to your significant other and indulge in some PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE!

Grade: B+

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