After making his 180 minute epic Magnolia, director PT Anderson was asked by the press what his next project would be. He announced he was making a 90 minute comedy starring Adam Sandler, to hearty laughter from the assembled hacks.
And then he made Punch-Drunk Love, a 90 minute comedy, starring Adam Sandler. Well, sort of...
Sandler plays Barry Egan, a man who is seemingly terrified by the world and also suffering from some kind of obsessive compulsive disorder. The film tracks his persecution at the hands of a chatline operator and his 'chance' meeting with a girl which leads to the Love of the title. But why Punch-Drunk too? Possibly because in the first half of the film Barry is subjected to glaring lights, clanging noises, the hen-pecking of his seven sisters and a physical beating...and then he follows Emily Watson's Lena on a business trip and his whole life changes.
Punch-Drunk Love veers between hectic, intense scenes to blissful dreaminess. The cinematography is superb, but likewise swings from steadicam loveliness to handheld paranoia. All the while, the soundtrack reflects this too with jittering, jerky themes melting into sweet hawaiian folk songs.
I loved this film at the cinema and repeat viewings on dvd have backed this up; its mixture of comedy and pathos, romance, phonesex and smashed up patio doors is genuinely appealing. The cast are perfect, and Sandler is a revelation playing something approaching his typical 'manchild', but cast adrift in a world that frustrates and frightens him. Emily Watson brings a tender soulfulness to the character of Lena, and Philip Seymour-Hoffman is as great as ever playing Barry's nemesis the Mattress Man.
Punch-Drunk Love split the critics when released and falls into the 'love it or hate it' category pretty squarely. But if you can accept the uneven tone and want something wholly different from the usual pap that Hollywood serves up in the romantic comedy genre you may well be surprised and delighted. And watch out for the way Barry's ties change colour as the film progresses to match the colour of Lena's dress last time he saw her. Aint that sweet?