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Punch-Drunk Love (15)



Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Featurette; 3 deleted scenes; Photo montage; Teaser trailer; Theatrical trailer.

ADAM Sandler has made a career out of portraying put-upon loners who triumph against the odds in romantic comedies; yet few of his previous efforts rate as highly as his latest, Punch-Drunk Love.

The usual characteristics are there, but they are somehow transformed in the hands of a great director; so much so, that the picture will probably rate among the year’s finest when the time comes to reflect on the past 12 months.

Punch-Drunk Love is directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (the talent behind Boogie Nights and Magnolia) and also marks a reigning in of his usually excessive style. It clocks in at an all too tight 90 minutes, but manages to enthral, astound and inspire throughout.

Sandler plays Barry Egan, an eccentric businessman with anger management issues, whose daily plight is made all the more unbearable by the relentless bullying of his seven, self-obsessed sisters.

His problems are compounded when, during a moment of weakness, he calls a phone sex line and ends up being blackmailed by the corrupt people running it (headed by the ultra-sleazy Philip Seymour Hoffman).

Yet redemption is close at hand, in the form of Emily Watson’s kooky Lena Leonard, with whom he begins a tentative relationship, while coming to terms with his own inadequacies.

The ensuing tale may not sound like much of a stretch for Sandler, yet by taking many of his usual characteristics and turning them on their head, the actor produces something of a tour-de-force; albeit guided by Anderson’s quirky direction.

For instance, the bullish anger which accompanies most of the star’s romantic heroes is present here, but far more restrained than usual. Egan is like a volcano waiting to explode and frequently takes his frustrations out on furniture, rather than people, so that when he finally lets go, his actions seem all the more understandable - the suffering he has previously had to endure is, at times, intolerable.

Likewise, Egan, at heart, is an intelligent, sensitive soul, whose capacity to be himself is stifled by the domineering presence of his sisters. So whereas the actor usually plays up being the idiot, here he is merely an ordinary guy forced to suffer extraordinary hardship.

Watson is like a breath of fresh air in his life, someone who offers him the chance to realise his potential and gain some self-belief, and there’s is a relationship worth rooting for, despite being fraught with obstacles - not least Hoffman’s bullish thug, whose increasingly desperate attempts to get money out of Egan lead to a wonderfully observed confrontation.

This is, stripped bare, a classic romantic comedy, given a barbed edge by the precociously talented Anderson, whose presence lends the film its refreshingly unique style.

While it may lack the dazzling excess of, say, Magnolia, the trademark surrealism and visual flair for which he is becoming known punctuates proceedings, especially during the opening moments, when an unexplained car crash is coupled with the dumping of a harmonium that inexplicably contributes to the changes in Egan’s life.

For Anderson, this is a glorious sonnet to sit alongside the operatic likes of his earlier work, while for Sandler, the movie is nothing short of a revelation. Both emotionally engaging and genuinely funny, it is a romantic gem.

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