After the sprawling opus Magnolia, writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson has pared his unique brand of filmmaking into a off-beat romantic comedy that’s not quite worth the talents of all involved. Playing like Anderson’s take on Kafka and Martin Scorsese’s After Hours, Punch Drunk Love is an under-written piece that holds viewer’s attention because of the strength of Sandler’s central performance and the sheer wonder of what the next scene will provide. This is a slight film given gravitas through skilled craft and technical efficiency. It’s a strange journey into a world that can best be described as modern take on German’s cinematic expressionist movement. Anderson’s film is dark and frustrating, while simultaneously feeling incomplete.
Barry Egan (Adam Sandler) is a socially awkward man, whose beaten down by seven nagging sisters. He is a lonely man, who decides to call a phone-sex service one evening. Barry isn’t looking for eroticism, but rather a genuine confidential conversation with someone who will actually listen. Despite his precautions, the girl from the phone service tries to extort money from Barry. This begins an odd sub-plot that feels like a left over idea from a Cohen Brothers’ movie, involving a short-tempered mattress salesman (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and a band of goons assigned to rough up the mild-mannered Egan.
Meanwhile, an outburst during a family gathering has estranged Barry from his relatives. Despite this anger issue, one of his siblings set him up with Lena (Emma Watson). The two begin a filtration that blossoms into a full-blown romance, only to be threatened by the gang of criminals paid to hurt Barry.
Punch Drunk Love is a gorgeous movie to look at. The lensing by OSCAR winning cinematographer Robert Elswit adds grace and beauty to an otherwise sloppy story. However, the true stand-out in the technical department is the incredible work of sound designer Gary Rydstrom. This minor story is unpredictable, but lacking of resonance while coming too close to self-conscious preciousness often.
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Stars: Adam Sandler, Emily Watson, Philip Seymour Hoffman