Punch-Drunk Love Review
By Joe Lozito
"Love" Lacks Heart
"Happy Gilmore" didn't do it. "Mr. Deeds" certainly didn't do it. "The Wedding Singer" almost did it. But "Punch-Drunk Love", writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson's offbeat romantic comedy, finally proves that Adam Sandler is a good actor. To Mr. Sandler's credit, I can't imagine anyone else playing the role of Barry Egan, the unassuming, emotionally repressed, novelty plunger salesman who, having been saddled with seven overbearing sisters, is prone to sudden outbursts of rage.
Mr. Anderson wanted to work with Mr. Sandler and he may have written this role specifically for the former Saturday Night Live comedian, but that seems to be the only role on which the writer-director expended any thought. In striking contrast to his epic "Magnolia", "Punch Drunk Love" is a trifle at 89 minutes with a genuine, heartfelt performance by Mr. Sandler, and not much else. Emily Watson has the unenviable role of Lena Leonard, Barry's love interest. Aside from the fact the Barry is kinda cute, we never see any reason that Lena would want to be with this obviously maladjusted, emotional misfit. Whenever their scenes together turn tender, Lena maternally holds Barry's head on her shoulder and sighs. Maybe she just likes a challenge.
At one point in the film, Barry rattles off personal questions as though he wants to get them out of the way ("Have you even been married? Where are you from originally?"), but Lena is not given a chance to answer. It's a shame since it would be really interesting to learn more about the woman who is willing to spend the rest of her life with this ball of neuroses. Oddly, there are moments when the two characters walk side by side and say nothing for several minutes. I appreciated the reality of these moments, but I would have liked Mr. Anderson to make better use of his limited screen time.
Mr. Anderson creates the Barry Egan character but then isn't quite sure what to do with him. "Punch-Drunk Love" is like a romantic comedy written and directed by a guy who wants to create anything but a romantic comedy. All the ingredients are there, but Mr. Anderson seems afraid to let them cook. The relationship in the film is simply not very involving. Worse still is a subplot involving a call to a phone sex service with disastrous and wholly unbelievable consequences. Still, this is a P.T. Anderson film, so there are moments of humor and poignancy. And, of course, there's a quirky soundtrack - this time featuring Shelley Duvall crooning "He Needs Me" from the 1980 bomb "Popeye". It's the kind of inspired choice we've come to expect from this director. There just aren't enough of them in this film.