Punch-Drunk Love
dir. Paul Thomas Anderson

Now playing at various theaters.

Director Paul Thomas Anderson, who is brilliant with visuals but a middling writer, teams up with Adam Sandler to create a decidedly wacked love story centered around anger, phone sex, pudding, and a harmonium. The result is a near-empty sonnet called Punch-Drunk Love, which, though vastly entertaining for the bulk of its lean 90-minute running time, immediately vaporizes upon exit of the theater.

Co-starring Emily Watson and the always brilliant Philip Seymour Hoffman, Punch-Drunk Love tells the confused story of Barry Egan (Sandler), a small-time business owner (his specialty: decorative toilet plungers) who is meek on the outside, but filled with gathering venom within. Said venom is mainly due to his abusive, controlling sisters, who have rendered him almost completely emasculated. Enter Lena (Watson), who for some reason finds herself immediately attracted to Egan--so much so that just days after meeting him, she barely blinks when he arrives in Hawaii to visit her during a business trip. Their blooming love is the pin upon which Punch-Drunk Love rotates, but, like everything Paul Thomas Anderson creates, there is oh so much more. Hence: phone-sex blackmail, frequent-flier miles via the purchase of pudding, and the aforementioned harmonium--a strange, beautiful piano/accordion-like hybrid that mysteriously appears in front of Sandler following a bizarre car wreck.

Like I said, a confused story--not confusing to the audience, but confused within itself. Anderson seems to have so much to say, so many bizarre scenarios to explore and see through to the end, that the film as a whole suffers. So much is happening that very little registers.

Still, this doesn't mean Punch-Drunk Love is unworthy of your peepers; it's not. But if you expect to remain entranced once you've started your car after the show, you'll have to look elsewhere.

(Curious side note: There is a report bobbing about the Internet that when Punch-Drunk Love screened at the New York Film Festival, it caused a woman in the audience to tumble into a seizure. This, of course, is fucking hysterical--especially if you've seen the flick, as I have, and have a fairly good idea of when said seizure occurred. So, to the seizure-susceptible: Beware the long, noisy, chaotic scene that occurs in Barry's work the morning his sister introduces him to Lena, lest you begin to tremble and foam at the mouth yourself.)

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