Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.

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Punch-Drunk Love

Film #105

THE PLOT

A psychologically troubled novelty supplier is nudged into a romance with an English woman, all the while being extorted by a phone-sex line run by a crooked mattress salesman and purchasing stunning amounts of pudding.

Year 1, Day 104

BEFORE: I’m going to give another Paul Thomas Anderson film a try here. Punch-Drunk Love stars Adam Sandler and Emily Watson (not Emma Watson) in addition to Philip Seymour Hoffman in a supporting role which keeps my Hoffman chain rolling. One of my film professors remarked how this is his favorite Anderson film over The Master and the rest of his oeuvre so I’m very excited to see this film.

AFTER: Punch-Drunk Love again left me with a lack of clarity. Like last night’s The Master there’s a sense that the film is dragging on because a plot really isn’t introduced until the second act which is a third of the way into the movie. Before that point, it’s all character development. And I don’t find it unclear or boring because of my desire for instant gratification to know everything that’s going on at all times. It’s because there’s no nugget of information that I can tie all of this seemingly random and vague development to. A great counter-example that comes to mind is WALL·E. The first fifteen to twenty minutes or so focuses solely on WALL·E and learning all about who this character is. Anderson does the same thing in Punch-Drunk Love with Barry Egan’s (Adam Sandler) character. The key difference between the two films is WALL·E gives you a tiny piece of information, a deserted Earth that’s polluted beyond imagination, that you can relate the robot’s development and personality to. In Punch-Drunk Love, you don’t have any clue about the story or the environment Egan’s character is a part of, which in my opinion, leads to confusion and tedium.

Roger Ebert likes this and stated in his review:

I feel liberated in films where I have absolutely no idea what will happen next. Lena and Barry are odd enough that anything could happen in their relationship.

Anderson seems to do this in all of his films, at least all the ones I’ve seen anyway. Some people, like Ebert enjoy this this. I, on the other hand, just wish that Anderson poured a solid foundation first before experimenting with the rest of the construction. With a solid base to go off of, a filmmaker can try many things and break away from standard conventions.

While my review makes the film sound like there’s no redeeming qualities, that’s not the truth. Yes, I don’t like Anderson’s style of storytelling and want him to give me more, just a little more, earlier on in the film. But most of my rant today is just an elaboration on my thoughts yesterday about The Master. In reality, I actually found Punch-Drunk Love to be more entertaining than The Master even despite the inferior acting coming from Adam Sandler. As with yesterday’s recommendation, if you like any of Anderson’s work, you’ll probably like Punch-Drunk Love. Otherwise, this film probably isn’t for you.

RATING: 3 out of 5