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USA 2003
Directed by
Paul Thomas Anderson
94 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

Punch-Drunk Love

Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the gaggle of young American directors, including Wes Anderson and Spike Jonze, who are being touted as the generational replacement for the once-innovative but now tired and over-weight major-domos like Coppola and Scorsese. It’s a heavy mantle to wear and Punch Drunk Love doesn’t exactly have a Wellesian bulk to carry it off but it is a refreshingly off-beat rom-com that will please audiences who don’t like rom-coms.

In his latest film, Barry Egan (Adam Sandler) is a lonely guy who has his own small business but no life. He meets Lena (Emily Watson) and things change but along the way he’s got to sort out a little problem that he’s got himself into with the operator (Philip Seymour Hoffman) of a phone-sex business.

How cool is it for Anderson to cast Adam Sandler, well-known for a string of post-teen, dumb-as-funny studio comedies in which his screen persona is a diffidently nice but socially dysfunctional dude given to outbursts of anger. Some will remember Sandler in Happy Gilmore as a nice-guy, socially dysfunctional ice-hockey player with an amazing golf drive and a bad temper who helps his Grandma and in the process takes down a golf pro scumbag and gets a cute girl. In Punch-Drunk Love Sandler is a nice-guy, socially dysfunctional dude given to outbursts of anger who makes toilet brushes, takes down a phone-sex scumbag and gets a cute girl. I’m sure no-one has failed to recognize Happy Gilmore for what it is. So what’s so different about Punch-Drunk Love?

Well, there’s Anderson’s inventive script with gently absurdist punctuation and his marvellous directorial flair not mentioning the stylish cinematography and groovily abstract intertitles.  Whilst in essence Punch-Drunk Love shares much with Happy Gilmore and that means an endemic American filmic preoccupation with violence (Punch), anti-social behavior (Drunk) and romantic infatuation (Love) it is so much more light-footed that they seem worlds apart. 

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Available from: Umbrella Entertainment




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