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Buy the DVD Punch-Drunk Love - 3.5/5 Stars

Reviewed by: John Ulmer

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Director: Paul Thomas Anderson (as P.T. Anderson)
Starring: Adam Sandler, Emily Watson, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Luis Guzman
MPAA Classification: R (strong language including a scene of sexual dialogue))
Year: 2002

"Punch-Drunk Love" is a lot of things. It's the change of direction for an actor. It's the change of acting for a director. It's odd, demented, and strangely entertaining. It could be called a form of art, which it probably is. It is good, but not particularly great.

Adam Sandler plays Barry Egan, a lonely, sad man with seven sisters. Barry has violent outbursts sometimes, and the most likely reason is because of the way his sisters treat him. Barry admits that he doesn't know if he's normal or not because he doesn't know how most people are. One day he meets Lena (Emily Watson), and they go out to dinner. Barry starts to fall in love, but trouble starts when furniture outlet owner Dean (Philip Seymour Hoffman) sends out four blond brothers to get money from Barry. Why? Because Barry called a phone sex line the night before and gave out his private information. Now Barry must protect Lena and show Dean who he's messing with.

"Punch-Drunk Love" is a really weird movie. Think "Being John Malkovich," "Magnolia" and "Happy Gilmore." Barry Egan is a rage-oholic, just like Sandler's other character Happy Gilmore from the said movie. As you probably well know, "Happy Gilmore" is about a hockey-player who becomes a golf player, and beats up a lot of people in the process. "Punch-Drunk Love" runs in somewhat the same veins. In one scene, when Barry and Lena are eating dinner, Lena tells Barry that his sister told her a story about Barry throwing a hammer through a glass door, and Barry excuses himself, goes into the bathroom, and tears it apart, destroying it limb from...toilet paper holder.

The biggest thing I heard about this movie was how good Adam Sandler was in his role. Many who dismissed his comedies praised him here. I always enjoyed his comedies (most of them, anyway), so I didn't have any reservations about admitting Sandler did a fine job, which he did. His character is quiet, loney. He tells a dentist in once scene, "I don't like myself very much." There's a different side to this Sandler; he's not as cocky and self-assured as he was in, say, "Happy Gilmore" or "Billy Madison." He's different. Maybe too different for his fans. When he finally confronts Dean at the end of the film, he says, "I have love in my life, and it makes me stronger than anything you could ever imagine." If someone approached you a year ago and placed a bet that Adam Sandler would ever treat women with respect in a movie of his, I bet you'd counter it. But I guess strange things happen.

The entire film is very odd. There's a Charlie Kaufman vibe running through this movie. Paul Thomas Anderson - P.T. Anderson to his fans - brought us "Boogie Nights" and "Magnolia." "Boogie Nights" clocked in at about two and a half hours, "Magnolia" at three +. "Punch-Drunk Love" is eighty-eight minutes. This might be the sign of a talented director changing courses, or a talented director taking a break from his more weighty motion pictures. Whatever the sign, the film is a bit too wacky and never really explains things like it should. But it's a fine film to watch, and there's nothing particularly awful about it. I found myself liking it more than I thought I would after seeing the trailer. Besides, it's probably the only time you'll ever watch a romantic film where the star-struck lovers say, "I love you so much I could smash your face in with a sledgehammer." This movie isn't exactly "When Harry Met Sally..."..

John Ulmer

Copyright, 2003, John Ulmer, used with permission

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