Classic review: “Punch-Drunk Love”


Source: IMDB

Max Munoz, Culture & Entertainment Editor

In a 1999 promotional interview, writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson was asked which actors he wanted to work with in the future. He gave two answers: award-winning method actor Daniel Day-Lewis and comedian Adam Sandler. The interviewer assumed he was joking.

However, Anderson’s next two films did indeed star Day-Lewis in 2007’s “There Will Be Blood” and Sandler in 2002’s “Punch-Drunk Love,” with stories just as different from each other as the actors themselves. But it’s the latter that, depending on who you talk to, either launched Anderson and Sandler’s careers into larger heights than ever, or was an offshoot of an otherwise stellar directorial career. There’s truth in both analyses. On one hand, it was a sharp departure from the director’s previous two efforts, exchanging large ensemble casts and convoluted narratives for a straightforward rom-com. But the filmmaker’s hot streak at the time also gave him ample opportunity to build on his character work from his past filmography.

Upon release, “Punch-Drunk Love” was self-described as an arthouse Adam Sandler movie. Indeed, the film’s indie credentials marry Sandler’s hokey persona surprisingly well, like pairing fine wine with pop tarts. It’s easily the actor-comedian’s best work, save for perhaps “Uncut Gems.” But what’s most interesting about his performance is that no attempt is made to mask his silliness. He wouldn’t try that until years later. The genius of what’s on display here is that Sandler is simply applying an old formula to a different genre, and it works, unexpectedly.

The movie also boasts, arguably, the director’s best cinematography to date. Anderson’s final project before switching to digital, the 35mm film contrasts everything in gorgeous, melancholic blues, purples, and whites. The camera also isn’t afraid to play with its landscapes, weaving in and out of buildings and swirling around its subjects to construct its own unique visual poetry. Every shot here is a purposeful treat for the eyes. There’s far more to delve into here, but “Punch-Drunk Love” is a piece that benefits greatly from its simplicity, and should be appreciated simply. This is not life-changing or life-affirming art; these are small strokes on a plain canvas. But it’s by these small strokes that PTA finds his sweetest, funniest, and finest film. Rating: 10/10