I must admit, my first experience with what has proven to be Paul Thomas Anderson's most overlooked work was far less than receptive. To be fair it was when I had first found myself getting into film and preferred the super obvious "cool" films like Pulp Fiction and V for Vendetta, at that time in my viewing history, my palette had yet to be introduced to even Boogie Nights, and certainly not There Will Be Blood, as such I was by no means prepared for the incredibly introspective nature of this film and was certainly not mature enough to detach Adam Sandler from his previous persona. Fortunately, I brought it upon myself to revisit this film, after falling in love with The Master, which still holds steadily in first place as my favorite film from last year. Punch-Drunk Love falls into the similar vein of Anderson's most recent work, although this fare is decidedly more comedic and certainly not as existential, in fact, the only point of connection one could initially make stylistically between the two films and their director is the use of Phillip Seymour Hoffman. While Magnolia certainly proves to be Anderson's most deconstructionist film to date, Punch-Drunk Love certainly holds its own, often completely detaching itself from any sort of identifiable image and favoring abstraction, even going so far as to display images of stars as if to suggest that the struggles of the characters, the absurdities of life and the artifice of order are, ultimately, subjected to the higher importance of some transcendent entity or state of mind. Although, knowing the complexities of Anderson's films, there is certainly an equal possibility that it is truly intended to capture the very real and human woes of an individual dealing with his own bouts of insanity. Regardless of its, ultimate meaning, a couple of things are rather certain when considering Punch-Drunk Love, it is a profusely cinematic film, beautifully shot and expertly acted and certainly far more respectable than some of the more theatrically and critically well-receive films of the year, in fact, as I reflect on other films from 2002, it seems as though it was the year of the over looked film, if ever one exists.
Punch-Drunk Love focuses on the rather unusual life of Barry (Adam Sandler) a clearly unstable novelties salesman, who has taken up wearing a blue suit as a means to change his life in a minor way, although when he steps outside to look down the street he watches an intense accident occur, which is followed by a harmonium being dropped off from out of a passing van for no clear reason. The somewhat detached Barry flees initially, only to be approached by a woman asking to leave her car there momentarily. Eventually, Barry retrieves the harmonium which becomes a point of obsession throughout the remainder of the film, as the trouble man deals with the constant nagging of his seven sisters, as well as obtaining the perfect amount of pudding cups to get the best deal relating to a free air miles giveaway. During a party, at which Barry snaps and breaks some glass, he is made aware of a friend of one of his sister's who has taken an interest in him and would really like to meet with him, unfortunately, she fails to make it to the party. In loneliness, Barry finds the number for a phone sex line, which invariably turns out to be a fraud that engages in small time identity theft. This organization begins to hound Barry, but assuming that it will eventually go away he meets with his sister's friend Lena (Emily Watson) who is incidentally the same girl who asked to park her car outside his job days earlier, in fact, it is revealed that she had seen a picture of Barry much earlier and had taken a liking to her. The two have an instant chemistry and Barry even flies to Hawaii to spend time with her, despite still dealing with the aggression of those involved in stealing his identity, going so far as to side swipe Barry and Lena when the two return from Hawaii. Barry in an adrenaline rush attacks the group in their truck, then hunts down the person responsible for his harassment, a Utah based matress salesman named Dean Trumbell (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) whose foul mouth and anger tremble in the face of Barry who claims that he has found a love so great that it makes him unstoppable. The film then closes with Barry and Lena embracing the uncertainty of their now shared future.
There is a large proponent of this film that deals with the problems of individualized suffering, it is impossible not to feel some degree of sympathy, or even pity for Barry who just seems to have terrible people skills and a lack of assertion as it relates to the world around him. His coworkers seem only to exist as free floating figures in his life, so much so that the only one who communicates with him, Lance (Luis Guzman) does so with a noticeable degree of disconnect. Even Barry's sisters and their husbands seem to have a degree of judgement and misunderstanding Barry's suffering criticizing him and calling him and idiot, even going so far as to betray his trust when he breaks down in front of them in momentary defeat. Barry cannot even buy companionship, as his attempt to find somebody to simply talk to ends up in his drawn out financial exploitation, although he undoubtedly corrects that situation. Although a few moments of research relating to this film helped me reaffirm my own considerations of the film suggesting that it is about two people connecting on a cosmic trajectory. Lena and Barry are veritable soul mates in that a set of seemingly bizarre and inexplicable events lead to their unification, even if it also required some direct will on their own part, particularly Lena who initially stalks Barry, but that is not to say that Barry does not return the favor later on within the narrative. Almost as though the two share a similar orbit, the narrative suggests that it is only a matter of time before the two coalesce, making for the ultimately moment of happiness for each character, something that is reaffirmed by the visual art pieces installed throughout created by the late Jeremy Blake, which come together to reveal the couple at the end of the film. It is perhaps this that explains the specific absurdity of everything else that occurs within the filmic space, precisely because it is completely irrelevant to everything else except the unison of two destined souls. Of course, I could be reading into this way too much and missing the point, but it is all to direct on the part of Anderson to ignore.
Key Scene: The supermarket scene will blow your mind on a surface visual level, but as I discovered after reading the film, there are some layers to the scene that will not be picked up on the first viewing and each moment within the supermarket foreshadows something larger within the narrative.
Buy this film, although it appears not to have a bluray which is a god damn shame, who knows perhaps with enough sales that will change. Either way the DVD is so cheap it is almost free, and thus an easy purchase.