Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

  • Director – Paul Thomas Anderson
  • Starring – Adam Sadler, Emily Watson, Philip Seymour Hoffman
  • Written – Paul Thomas Anderson
  • Year – 2002
  • Running Time – 95 mins

They say that every one has a book in them.  If that is true then I reckon every movie star has at least one good film in them and Punch-Drunk Love is Adam Sandler’s one good film.  I remember listening to UK film critic Mark Kermode before he planned to watch Sandler’s horrendously double-acted Jack and Jill, he stated that as low as Sandler has sunk of late he still goes into each of his new releases remembering that Sandler was in Punch-Drunk Love.  This gives him hope, for a short time anyway.

Punch-Drunk Love tells that story of Barry Egan (Sandler)  a slightly beleaguered small businessman who has been so mollycoddled and henpecked by his seven sisters that he seems to have developed borderline psychiatric issues as well as an occasional fearsome rage.    Egan clearly craves peace, happiness and above all else stability to the chaos that he feels he lives in.  Early one morning whilst opening his toilet plunger business help arrives from two quarters; firstly a mysterious harmonium is delivered outside his premises followed swiftly by an inquisitive woman named Lena Leonard (Emily Watson) who appears keen to make his acquaintance .  Through both Egan learns to channel his inner rage towards a more productive outcome.

I have not seen any of Paul Thomas Anderson’s previous work but anyone that can conjure up this kind of performance out of Adam Sadler deserves some critical attention.  Sandler is simply outstanding in this career high role.  Through him you feel Egan’s unease,  his confusion, his sadness and indeed his feelings of love.  Sometimes these feelings come through in such deep measures that it felt quite overpowering; I simply cannot remember being quite so invested in an on-screen character before.  Sandler’s performance was so unexpected that it reminded me of Jim Carrey’s in Eternal Sunshine of Spotless Mind.

Emily Watson as Lena is equally impressive as she carefully, respectfully and  at times apprehensively tip toes her way into Egan’s life. She is clearly carrying some baggage of her own as well which is never really explored, but you get the strong feeling she understands what’s going on in Egan’s head.   The chemistry between them is evident and they seem to flow off each other well.  In one particular scene where Lena channels Egan’s aggressive side into a more intimate setting, you can clearly see the influence this film had on Sarah Polly’s recent drama Take This Waltz.  In fact these two films would work well as a double bill.

There are some entertaining cameos thrown in for good measure, with the lead credit given to Philip Seymour Hoffman.  Here he stars as as the owner of a mattress store which doubles as a sex phone line centre called by Egan during a moment of introspection, which leads to unexpected consequences. Out of Egan’s seven sisters we only really spend time with Elisabeth, played by 24’s Mary Lynn Rajskub, who is convincing but perhaps a little too CTU,  however my favourite cameo has to go to Robert Smigel as Walter the Dentist.  A conversation between Egan and Walter had me laughing out loud and reaching for the rewind button to watch it again.

Anderson’s direction is short, snappy and incredibly visually attractive. Colour is every where and each frame is beautifully shot.  Anderson uses the screen to demonstrate Egan’s confusion and in one particularly telling scene, he shows Egan running through the maze of corridors trying to find Lena’s apartment. This is a powerful and effective demonstration of Egan’s state of mind. I suspect that on return viewings (which are inevitable) I will discover more hidden gems which passed me by on this first viewing.

Whilst I was expecting this film to be good, I was still surprised at just how good it was.  Sandler is a revelation, I wonder if he knows just how good he and this film was?  I really hope he does.


Review by Will Malone 
If you liked Punch Drunk Love, then try Carnage

6 thoughts on “Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

  1. Though Sandler has many crappy movies, this film is a particular gem of his. And you can never go wrong with Paul Thomas Anderson. Nice review 🙂

    • Thanks Alley, I also have a soft spot for The Wedding Singer and 50 First Dates, but this is in a whole other league. Going to try and check out some more of Anderson’s work, though heard mixed things about him. Thanks for the comment.

  2. Nice one, Will. Sometimes I like to pretend that Adam Sandler has only made one movie since this (Funny People) and all the others have just been bad dreams!
    For a PT Anderson catch-up, I totally recommend Boogie Nights and Magnolia, and you’re just in time for his new flick The Master coming soon to a cinema near you! Careful you don’t get mixed up with Paul WS Anderson, he of Resident Evil fame. Personally, I quite like his flicks too, but it’s like comparing McDonald’s to a filet mignon 🙂

    • Hey Buddy – thanks for the tips, have added them to my watch list. I also really liked Funny People, which to me was far and away his best role, until I had seen this. Still love The Wedding Singer though – especially Billy Idol’s cameo. Makes you proud to be British!

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