Punch-Drunk Love

I was thrilled with Punch-Drunk Love when it came out: such loopy energy, zigzag surprises, so preposterous but insouciantly so oddly appealing—a mess but a dazzling mess, like most of P.T. Anderson’s movies. A decade-and-a-half later, it’s lost a lot of its punch. I don’t know if I’ve changed, if imitations have sucked out its novelty, or what, but its shortcomings now shine too clearly.

Adam Sandler plays a plumbing-parts salesman who’s out on the spectrum (a bit of Benjamin Braddock crossed with Rain Man), who’s never traveled or had a girlfriend, who’s always been tormented by seven playful sisters who don’t know the madness they’re inflicting. One day he meets a woman (Emily Watson) who’s as nutty as he is (without the phobias or violent impulses). He also, on a whim, calls a phone-sex service and falls prey to a blackmail scheme. There’s also a subplot about collecting pudding-box coupons for frequent-flyer points. It doesn’t quite gel together, but I like (still like) the fact that Anderson seems fine with that, as if to say much of life doesn’t gel together either.

What bothers me now is how undeveloped Watson’s character is: a beautiful woman with no apparent social disorders, she has a responsible job, travels a lot on business, says she had a boyfriend just six months earlier and was once married—so why is she attracted to this total weirdo? It’s unfathomable, and the fact that there’s no there there is annoying even apart from its implausibility, as if Anderson couldn’t be bothered to paint a female character (a problem with a lot of his movies, come to think of it).

317punchdrunk.box.jpgThat said, the film is worthwhile if just to watch what Sandler can do with a challenge, when he’s not in movies made for eight-year-olds. He’s wonderfully subtle as this man-child; you hope he turns out OK, which is more than the script might suggest. Watson is dreamy, in a good way. The confrontation scene between Sandler and Philip Seymour Hoffman, as the phone- sex hoodlum who owns a mattress store, sizzles. And the music—a mix of strings, reeds, and harmonium—does convey the sense of living with chaos inside your head.

The 1080p transfer is taken from an HD master of an interpositive (not a 4K master of the original negative), and it looks it: Colors are vivid, but the picture is fuzzier and grainier than most Criterion Blu- rays. Extras are spotty: The only interesting one is an interview with composer Jon Brion, and it’s very interesting.

Studio: Criterion Collection, 2002
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Audio Format: 5.1 surround
Length: 95 mins.
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Adam Sandler, Emily Watson, Philip Seymour Hoffman