Day One: Punch-Drunk Love (MotM 2020)

punch-drunk love cover

It’s the weekend and it’s late. I’ll try and make this as succinct as possible while also maintaining the critical sublimity I am beloved for!

Paul Thomas Anderson is a director I hear a lot of high praise over. I have seen his latest piece, Phantom Thread, and thought, while technically good, lacked a lot of emotional punch that makes me adore the art of filmmaking. Even still, when I come across something with as much praise as his filmography brings, it’s hard to ignore for too long.

Adam Sandler is an actor/comedian that a lot of people shit on. From his choice of films to the generally goofy demeanor he puts on, many regard him as an “Avoid at all costs” factor to their interest in a given film, notoriously comedies. His reputation has gotten a spit-shine recently due to his fantastic performance in Uncut Gems, though that doesn’t mean his You Don’t Mess with the Zohan days are necessarily behind him. I, like many, consider myself an Anti-Sandler enthusiast, even if my preference is simply avoiding any comedy he’s involved with.

punch-drunk love 1
Can you spot any symbolism in this image?

These two figures come together and have a baby called Punch-Drunk Love, and it turned out to be a little bit of everything, particularly good. Initially, it reminded me of another film I saw recently called The Art of Self-Defense, where Jesse Eisenberg plays an awkward and weak-minded middle-aged dude. Sandler plays the same role here, only his writing is given far more commitment to character development and the deeper intricacies of a troubled youth. Also like The Art of Self-Defense, I wasn’t very fond of this film at its starting point. The more it processed the information it wished to send, the more I came to cheer for the good in his character to surface.

I could see some not really caring for the lack of development given to side characters or the central romance, as it leaves some digestion to be desired. To preface this with a slight spoiler warning, Sandler and his love interest, played by Emily Watson (not Emma Watson), kind of hit it off immediately. There’s little in terms of progression of romance through interaction, as much of it is shown in little conversations that, on the surface, seem trivial. They work to build Barry up, but Watson simply acts as the catalyst to his growth, rather than an actual character to empathize with at a similar level. Very “Love at first sight” feeling, which continues in a similar manner as Sandler tries to process the events that occur.

punch-drunk love 3
Sandler gets very angry and talks into a lot of phones in this film.

This is essentially the Adam Sandler show, as aside from Watson and maybe Mary Lynn Rajskub, he gets a large bulk of the screentime. Luis Guzmán, bless his heart, is taken along for the ride and barely gets to do anything. Philip Seymour Hoffman, a Thomas Anderson staple, has a couple of really good scenes, but is ultimately a speck of the whole. Thus, if Sandler and his exploits don’t work for you, this movie will be a waste. It’s all about his big romance, big pudding scheme, and big personality.

Interestingly enough, the more I think on this, the more I come to appreciate it. There are many aspects about Punch-Drunk Love that, emotionally, I found lacking in Phantom Thread. Combined with the staple precision that Thomas Anderson employs with his writing, shot composition, and long takes, I almost kind of prefer it. Sandler did very well with his character, and despite his obtuse behavior, I found myself fond of him by the end. He was the main cog, and I enjoyed him, so what more is there to say? Well, plenty, but I have to wrap this up before the day ends.

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Gah! Why such a bright backdrop? It’s almost like it means something!

A good film for those who like some quirky romance with solid (main) character development. Also good to showcase for people who think Sandler can’t act worth shit. If the overall oddities presented don’t turn one off, I don’t see why this couldn’t be enjoyable for a large variety of people. Also, it’s cute. Alas! I have been tainted! The wholesomeness has destroyed my ability to think rationally! Damn you, successful romance! I was once resilient, but now you have thwarted me!

Final Score: 7.5/10

The rating for all other films can be found at Letterboxd.

For more, check out the March of the Movies Archive!

Thank you for your time. Have a great day.

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