Punch-Drunk Love (****1/2)

(2002) P.T. Anderson – Adam Sandler, Emily Watson, Luiz Guzman, & Philip Seymour Hoffman

Synopsis: Barry Egan (Adam Sandler) isn’t living a worst-case scenario, but he’s not exactly walking on sunshine. His seven sisters—and the absence of anything else in his life—have him cornered into alternating periods of rabid defensiveness and nervous reticence. He runs his own business and not much else. And then, one morning a piano-like instrument (okay, a harmonium) falls off a truck. And then a woman, Lena, (Emily Watson) stops by and asks him to see that her car gets taken care of. As you might guess from the title and/or any other knowledge of the film, ‘Punch-Drunk Love’ is an off-kilter romantic comedy sort of movie.

Review: Boogie Nights [•••] was, well, good, and Magnolia [••••½] was excellent if a little too pretentious (and maybe a little too long), but Punch-Drunk Love is nearly pitch-perfect. Adam Sandler is astoundingly good. So is Emily Watson, but you’d basically expect that. What’s difficult is trying to pinpoint what exactly makes this movie so good. First things first, it’s very well directed. The scenes are, basically, brilliantly composed; there are lots of opportunities to notice this very early on, but the most blatantly outstanding scene that caught my attention was a birthday party Barry goes to (it’s for one of his sisters), where the scene is framed well and the action’s smooth and there are like a million conversations going on that don’t distract or detract from the scene but feed into one another. Another area where PDL struts its stuff well is in expectation versus uncertainty. Essentially, there’s an excellent balance of expectation against complete uncertainty. As with previous P.T. Anderson flicks, weird, bizarre, unexpected things happen. This is true here as well. And while you have a certain idea of how things might happen, or at least how they’re going to end up—it’s a romantic comedy, after all—you’re never entirely sure. You’re not alienated by having your expectations bashed again and again into the ground, but you’re not spoon-fed, either. Another thing: Jon Brion (who did music for Magnolia and possibly other P.T. Anderson movies) puts together a very excellent score. All around, it’s a fun film. An enjoyable film. Barry’s pitiful and quirky and has some problems with his anger, but is a generally likeable character. The sisters, who constantly harp on Barry, are annoying and yell at Barry, but they’re also defensive of him. On the phone with Lena, one of Barry’s sisters apologizes for Barry’s behavior, saying, ‘he’s weird’; when Lena politely agrees with her, the sister responds, ‘well, he’s not that weird, okay? Don’t think he is.’ It’s a great balance. Really, the whole movie’s about balance. It’s never too normal or too arcane. Never too fast or too slow. Never too loud or too quiet.

Rating: [••••½] out of [•••••]