Punch Drunk Love

April 23rd, 2003 Film, Film Reviews, Xpress

Director/Writer; Paul Thomas Anderson

Starring; Adam Sandler, Emily Watson, Luis Gusman, Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

Director Paul Thomas Anderson showed a little of the technical moviemaking skill in Boogie Nights that would soon establish his reputation, but it was unarguably a straight narrative story told with his keen eye for the details of the period.

Then, if you stayed awake through the duration of Magnolia (or didn’t walk out as most audiences steadily did during its three hour stretch), you realised that he was a little more warped then you thought.

Punch Drunk Love confirms Anderson as a director to join the ranks of Kubrick, Lynch and the Coen brothers — he’s more interested in giving you an eclectic melting pot of strong and graven images (and letting you make up your own story) than telling you what he’s thinking.

Despite the way Hollywood treats film audiences, we’re not stupid. But plenty of film goers like to be told a story and not spend the rest of the week guessing what was going on. If that’s you, steer well clear of Anderson’s latest offering (unless you see it just for the starkly original images and occurrences).

If you like filling in enormous gaps in storytelling with existential discussion and pseudo-psychological guesswork, Punch Drunk Love will give you fodder for thought for the next six months.

It’s nearly impossible to describe what it’s even about. We start with a nerdy businessman, Barry — Adam Sandler, who admittedly does the best acting job he ever has, worlds away from his Saturday Night Live/Happy Gilmore-type schtick.

He; a) witnesses a terrible car crash that is never mentioned again, b) has a small piano left in front of the driveway of his warehouse place of work, c) has seven pushy sisters who apparently bait him into acts of enraged destruction, d) calls a phone sex line whose owners extort money from him e) awkwardly falls in love with a pretty stranger, f) travels to Hawaii for no reason and g) travels to Utah for no reason — with a telephone receiver still in his hand that he’s yanked out at work.

And that’s just the big things that happen during the days-long snippet we get of Barry’s life.

Clues appear to be given. Apparently he’s started wearing a suit to work and nobody can work out why. His sisters make reference to him having started to ‘act weird’. He becomes obsessed with accumulating enough frequent flyer miles to go somewhere because of a marketing error in a competition (as so buys a table full of pudding dessert cups).

If you can work out everything that’s gone on (and why) by the time you leave, you’re either Paul Thomas Anderson or you’re just making it up. Everything in the film — apart from the occasionally long, slow scenery — is the polar opposite of clear.

But if that’s what you like, Anderson has a masterful use of the camera, of colour, of tension and of implicating the audience in the action on the screen. He’s a master moviemaker who just might be a master storyteller as well.

And as always, it’s great fun seeing permanent Anderson fixture Phillip Seymour Hoffman morph into another memorably iconic character.

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