As Cool As A Fruitstand

…and maybe as strange. A movie blog.

Punch-Drunk Love

Posted by Hedwig on March 15, 2008

I went over to my friend Stefan’s place tonight. To watch “a movie”: we hadn’t quite determined which one. I’d brought the three DVDs I bought today (Bogart&Bacall in To Have and Have Not and in The Big Sleep, and Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth in The Lady From Shanghai), but mostly to show them off. He had quite an impressive amount of films on his computer. We almost settled on In Cold Blood, but it was over two hours long, and considered Punch-Drunk Love instead.

“What’s it about?”, he asked. “I’m not sure”, I answered honestly. “I think it’s supposed to be an oddball rom-com. It’s from the guy who did There Will Be Blood and Magnolia.”

Punch-Drunk Love it was.  A housemate was called in, and got the same reaction. And in the first fifteen, twenty minutes, many “huh?”s ensued.

The thing is, “oddball rom-com” really isn’t such a bad description, and I can’t really think of a better one… but it gives you an entirely insufficient image of what the movie is. There is comedy…but there aren’t any jokes. The laughs come from surprise, from shock, from the pure absurdity of it all. And there is a romance, though I feel unqualified to say whether it is romantic, and the romantic angle takes a while to develop.

It’s hard to describe the sheer insanity of this movie. It’s not just the main character, who’s meek most of the time but then quietly, apparently without emotion, erupts into intense bursts of violence. Nor is it his seven totally deranged sisters, who clearly made Barry into what he is. It’s not even just the stylistic traits, like the abstract, psychedelic sequences or the loud, intrusive music that seems to be all inside Barry’s head.

But altogether, these elements add up to one unpredictable, jumbled, crazy movie. A movie I sorta kinda think I liked. In any case, I could never tell what would come next, and while I can’t say it was an altogether satisfying viewing experience, it did feel involving and new.

Odd, that There Will Be Blood and this movie were made by the same mind. Yet at the same time, it makes perfect sense. Daniel Plainview and Barry Egan are very different creatures, and they live in different worlds, but they might – just maybe – understand one another.

6 Responses to “Punch-Drunk Love”

  1. I completely agree, I am sure Plainview and Egan would understand each other, I totally get that.

    I really love this film, Paul Anderson is genius. To date, I have never liked Sandler more than in PDL.

  2. Daniel said

    I excitedly saw this in the theater back in my PTA worship days and was let down a little, especially since it had been 3 years since his last film. As such, I remember little of it, but I’ve always been meaning to see it again.

  3. Joe Valdez said

    Like Daniel, I paid money to watch this one in a theater while still on my Hard Eight, Boogie Nights and Magnolia high. I remember loving the design and the style of the film, but Anderson’s writing continued to get thinner and thinner the further away he got from Hard Eight.

    I also would have liked this so much better if it had just been John C. Reilly in the lead role. Whimpering Adam Sandler has just never appealed to me. Still, your review made me curious to watch this again. Good review, Hedwig.

  4. This is the one Anderson film I haven’t seen and it was primarily because of my distaste for Sandler. I should see it eventually and your description of it makes it seem more enjoyable than the impression I got from the generally positive reviews.

    But let me just say, even without seeing it, I completely agree with Joe: Had John C. Reilly been in the lead I certainly would not have missed it. Knowing his talents and having a rough idea of the lead character I think he would have been superb.

  5. sarcastig said

    Joe and Jonathan, I know exactly what you mean: the main reason I had avoided Punch-Drunk Love until now was Adam Sandler, who just rubs me the wrong way. It’s the voice, mostly, but also just his shtick of looking down and looking up, of always hunching over…I just don’t like the guy.

    I’m not sure John C. Reilly would have been right in the part though. He’s too ruddy, in a way, or I don’t know. Sandler actually kind of works in the role, I think. Or at least makes it his own, and while his Barry Egan isn’t quite likable, I don’t think he’s meant to be.

    Anyway, Nick (and also Craig) thank you for singing the praises of this movie to me, and pushing me over my Sandler allergy. I can’t say I loved the movie, but I liked the experience of watching it quite a bit.

  6. I have no use for the Sandler persona in one of his typical movies, but Anderson has put him to use here in the best possible way.

    I love this movie.

    There I said it.

    Minus the sisters and the outbursts of violence, I can totally identify with Barry Egan as a guy who has spent a large portion of life kind of uncomfortable in his own skin.

    I love that it’s a complete curveball from Anderson. I love the use of He Needs Me from Popeye.

    I don’t think this would’ve worked at all with John C. Reilly. It would’ve been too ordinary. Not bizarre enough.

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