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IN SHORT: strictly art house, desperately needing something more than a string of a story. [Rated R for strong language including a scene of sexual dialogue. 89 minutes]
We expect that actors in the films we watch know how to act. We hope, sometimes against hope, that the directors in charge know how to get the best performances out of their actors and how to edit those performances together to tell a clean and concise story. Some frills are nice but whatever they are shouldn't get in the way of telling the story. Which brings us to Punch Drunk Love, a film with a barely existent story poorly developed by a writer/director who has fallen in love with exceptionally long steadicam tracking shots of his characters walking around and improvising thought and emotion. When technique gets in the way of telling the story; when it interferes with the work of the actors in presenting characters that we should get some kind of feeling for, the film is a failure. Let us say it, all together now: Punch Drunk Love is a failure.
Even the occasional chuckle doesn't relieve the growing boredom of the crowd...
What if you were the sole male in a family of seven sisters? What if you were whipped, we mean physically whipped by four brothers in the service of an extortion prone phone sex service? What if you spent the evening with a beautiful woman and learned absolutely nothing about where she was from or who she knows or what she does or who she's been involved with? What if the only thing you get out of that date is a bruised fist from beating up the bathroom fixtures? Would you still fall in love?
Yeah, sure you would. And you'd be as popular as Jerry Lewis in France.
Barry Egan (Adam Sandler) is our main man, here, running a business trying to sell customized, novelty toilet bowl plungers to hotel and motel chains. Barry is a walking emotional shipwreck of a man, beaten into submission by his sisters and containing an explosive rage that tends to explode out of him when he's reminded of embarrassing incidents from his childhood. He's embarrassed because one of these incidents is about all the lovely Lena Lenard (Emily Watson) knows about him. Lena works with one of Barry's sisters and, after seeing a picture, wanted to meet. We're led to believe that Lena is the only femme that has ever shown interest in Barry and that, because of that one phone call to the phone sex lady mentioned above, this relationship has little chance of working. No, it doesn't work because the pair learn absolutely nothing about each other because writer Paul Thomas Anderson has decided that a better relationship is forged by a Knight on a White Horse scenario (or in this case, Barry with a crowbar versus the extortionist brothers).
Director Anderson has also made the auteur-istic decision that, once he lined up principles Sandler, Watson and Philip Seymour Hoffman (as mastermind of the extortion scheme) that he could fill the rest of his cast with amateurs grabbed off the street by his casting director. Doing so may have led to a number of "brilliant" improvs but it sure didn't doesn't anything for regular crowd laying out ten bucks a ticket. Anderson seems, at least to us, to have put more thought into the songs and music on the soundtrack accompanying his images, all mixed at annoyingly high levels in relation to the dialog. Again, his technique gets in the way of telling the story.
The only saving grace in the supporting cast comes from the work of Luis Guzman, as one of Barry's employees, who gets more laughs from a sideways glance than almost anything Sandler busts apart in any of his rages or improvs.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Punch Drunk Love, he would have paid . . .
That line about the French refers to the folk at the Cannes film festival,
who gave Anderson a "best director" prize for this bomb. There
are a couple of chuckles to be had from Punch Drunk Love, but
not enough to bother yourself with. More important, we hated it. Our femme
friend hated it. The writer sitting next to us hated it. Her husband hated
it. Follow the lead of the audience, folks.
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