Monday, 21 July 2014

Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

Knockout Blow.

When Paul Thomas Anderson first told reporters that he wanted to work with Adam Sandler they laughed, politely went quiet, then moved on to their next question. A harmonious collaboration between the director of well-received art house ensemble pieces, such as Boogie Nights and Magnolia, and the regular Razzie nominee seemed like a faint plausibility.

Finally, when the result of the pair’s labours was released at the 2002 Cannes festival, the critics discovered that the joke was on them. But not every naysayer was silenced by the film’s quirky chemistry. Even now, Punch-Drunk Love tends to provoke polar emotional judgements between viewers.

Anderson’s excellent script revolves around Barry Egan, a businessman bullied into submission and destructive rages by his cohort of seven sisters. The love of an exciting woman (Emily Watson) might be enough to wrestle Egan away from his inner demons. All the while, jeopardy lurks when the owner of a telephone sex-line (Philip Seymour Hoffman) plots to blackmail the hapless salesman.

Sandler is a revelation as a brooding, messed up human being. Roger Ebert wrote that the comedian “liberated from the constraints of formula, reveals unexpected depths as an actor. Watching this film, you can imagine him in Dennis Hopper roles. He has darkness, obsession and power. He can't go on making those moronic comedies forever, can he?" I guess that is what you would call a backhanded compliment.

For someone, indeed myself, who actually likes Sandler’s back catalogue, the film gains a greater power by so boldly casting its lead actor against type.

Paul Thomas Anderson tends to make weird, non-conformist movies and this is no different. Bright colours bounce around the sets, locations and costumes, which include the protagonist’s own distinctive blue suit, and big, noisy events regularly occur in the background of scenes. With unnecessarily long tracking shots and improvisational dialogue, there is a realism here that would be inimitable for any other filmmaker.

Sandler is supported by some excellent supporting actors and a few cameo stars. While Emily Watson’s performance is beautifully restrained, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s memorable pantomime villain has gone down in cinema history as yet another platform for his phenomenal talent. Even Luis Guzman appears as one of Egan’s employees. The Hispanic actor has been in everything from Carlito’s Way to The Limey. His name may not be famous but you will definitely recognise his face when you see it.

When it comes to Punch-Drunk Love the seemingly unlikely pairing of Anderson and Sandler created a strikingly memorable dark comedy which can also hold its weight as an unconventional romantic piece. It won’t be to everyone’s liking but that is what proper cinema is all about.


No comments:

Post a Comment