A review of “Punch-Drunk Love” by Jeanne Aufmuth


Stars: ****

Rating: R for intense language and violence

Run Time: 1 hour, 37 minutes



Paul Thomas Anderson knocked me out with his six-degrees of separation classic, “Magnolia” (1999).  I admired the stylistic moves of his ode to 80s sleaze, “Boogie Nights” (1997).  Anderson’s personal panache, and a provocative performance by the startlingly underrated Adam Sandler, yields a win-win proposition.

It’s a smorgasbord of the bizarre, delivered on a vibrant silver platter.  Sandler is the ill-at-ease Barry Egan, a neurotic small-business owner who has been permanently damaged at the hands of seven tyrannical sisters. Barry’s insular universe is blown apart when he meets Lena (Emily Watson), an attractive Englishwoman who miraculously appears to be interested in him.  Barry’s goofball paranoia is a delightful counterpoint to Lena’s measured, honest restraint, resulting in a love story of peerless depth.

Anderson’s gift is to start with a simple narrative foundation, and craft it into an invigorating pastiche of colorful radiance.  Barry’s idiosyncrasies fuel the greater good (in this case, the story) – his wounded emotion, his violent temper tantrums, and his childlike capabilities for love. An imprudent phone call evolves into a sinister plot suggestion that pursues Barry with a vengeance.  

 “Punch-Drunk Love” defies categorization. It’s an acquired taste; chock full of unforeseen hostility, suspended by an arrhythmic score, and saturated with poignant pity.  Sandler’s perverse anxiety consumes the screen with a kinetic energy that’s as frightening as it is funny. Watson matches him scene for scene, never wavering from her faithful competence.   Invigorating, surreal, and resonant with a rainbow of emotion - this is P.T. Anderson’s world.