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Punch-Drunk Love - Preview & US reaction



Preview by: Jack Foley

HAVING helped Mark Wahlberg to be taken seriously as an actor in Boogie Nights, and after guiding Tom Cruise to a Best Supporting Actor Oscar in Magnolia, director, Paul Thomas Anderson, is now helping funnyman Adam Sandler to newfound acclaim.

Punch-Drunk Love, Anderson’s latest, opened at selected cinemas in New York and Los Angeles over the weekend of October 11-14 and won almost universal acclaim - both for director and star.

Anderson had already taken the Best Director prize at Cannes for the quirky romantic comedy and is already generating a little Oscar buzz, while Sandler has been praised for his change of pace, turning in one of his quietest on-screen characters for years.

The movie was inspired by the films of French director Jacques Tati - such as Monsieur Hire and Un Coeur en Hiver - and finds Sandler’s Barry Egan as a down-on-his-luck small business owner who is unable to find love because of the abuse he suffered as he was growing up - he is the brother of seven sisters.

After resorting to a phone-sex line for companionship, he finds himself blackmailed by a woman who steals his credit card number, but his luck begins to change when he discovers a loophole that allows him to earn one million frequent-flyer miles by purchasing $3,000 worth of pudding.

Things get better still when Emily Watson’s mysterious woman enters his life, offering the possibility of the romance and companionship he so craves.

The movie co-stars the likes of Anderson regulars Philip Seymour Hoffman and Luis Guzman and lasts a mere 90 minutes - half the length of both Magnolia and Boogie Nights. It is said to mark something of a refinement from the sprawling magnitude of his earlier work, while also boasting some of the director’s trademark visual flair.

Punch-Drunk Love was apparently written with Sandler in mind and, speaking at the recent Toronto Film Festival, Sandler said that he had committed to the project because he wanted to work with Anderson. The 36-year-old says he still finds the need to stretch himself in any way he can, but dismissed suggestions that his partnership with Anderson meant a change of direction.

He may even return to stand-up comedy, following in the footsteps of his mentor, Robin Williams.

US reaction

Punch-Drunk Love attracted almost universal acclaim from critics, even before it opened nationwide. Leading the way was Moviehole, which declared that it was ‘one of the best films of the year’ and awarded it four out of five stars.

Hollywood Reporter, meanwhile, described it as ‘a delightfully idiosyncratic romantic comedy that manages to give convention a swift jab in the gut’, while the New York Times opined that ‘any film that can discover so many avenues of joy and any film that can bring Adam Sandler to the New York Film Festival must be touched by some kind of magic’.

The Onion’s A.V. Club said that it was ‘a convincing depiction of the mad rush of new love, with an emphasis on the madness’, while Premiere magazine awarded it a maximum four out of four and said referred to it as ‘a movie of undeniable power and strangeness’.

The accolades were continued by ReelViews, which said that it was ‘quirky and stylish, but not in a manner that comes across as overly artsy or pretentious’.

Rolling Stone predicted that ‘Sandler and the movie will knock you for a loop’, while Variety announced that it was ‘entirely unpredictable and marked by audacious strokes of directorial bravado’.

TV Guide referred to it as ‘an old-fashioned romantic comedy, yet nothing about it seems conventional’, while Boxoffice Magazine wrote that ‘the viewer is always in the hands of a director who knows exactly what he is doing’ and awarded it another maximum rating - four out of four.

LA Weekly went a stage further by hailing it as ‘perhaps the most assaultive romantic comedy in Hollywood history’.

There were some who felt that the movie didn’t live up to expectations, however, with New York magazine concluding that ‘the result, while unique, is two-dimensional and ultimately disappointing’, while Village Voice said that Punch-Drunk Love is ‘a one-trick pony that, hampered by an undeveloped script, ultimately pulls up lame’.

But the negative vibe was largely confined to a minority and we look forward to catching up with the movie when it opens in the UK in February (date subject to change, of course).

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