"Tightly Wound Wages of Sin"
What You Need To Know:
Adam Sandler stars in PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE as an uptight business owner who tries to find love and frequent-flyer miles, if only he can escape the soul-crunching criticism of his seven sisters. Barry has been henpecked by his sisters all his life. He avoids female companionship. He retreats from reality. As he buys large quantities of pudding to win a bunch of frequent-flyer miles, he starts to fall in a strange love affair with a woman played by Emily Watson. Their love is threatened by an irate phone sex woman who tries to blackmail and threaten Barry.
Adam Sandler jettisons his moronic attitudes and gives a convincing, compelling performance in this very entertaining morality tale. An important part of the success of the movie is the powerful sound track and brilliant music by Jon Brion, which transforms the story into a mythic tale. The camerawork is also exceptional, as is the direction by Paul Thomas Anderson, who directed MAGNOLIA. The foul language, however, is R-rated, and there’s a dark, sadistic tone in the story, which is set in a weird humanistic world of self-hate, anger, violence, and loneliness. PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE also contains a brief glimpse of nudity
(B, H, C, LLL, VVV, S, N, A, D, M) Cautionary morality tale (which is evidently unintentional) set in a weird humanistic world of self-hate, anger, violence, and loneliness, with some very mild redemptive references; 45 obscenities and 6 profanities; consistent violence including truck crashing, man shatters sliding glass doors with his fists, man beats up bathroom, man pounds wall, man beats up thugs, man discusses inflicting violence on woman during foreplay and woman responds with more sadistic and cannibalistic discussions (“I want to chew your face”), knife cut, woman cuts forehead with copious blood in car crash; kisses, quick glimpse of pornography, one clothed scene of foreplay and some phone sex talk; quick glimpse of upper female nudity in porno film on TV; alcohol; smoking; and, surplus of product placement, blackmail, extortion, and extensive lying by the hero who starts to confess his lies as he finds someone he loves.
Paul Thomas Anderson makes powerful, captivating, weird movies. Some are abhorrent, such as BOGIE NIGHTS, and others are overtly Christian while excessive in terms of sex and violence, such as MAGNOLIA. PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE is another one of his very strange movies, excessive, over-the-top, and yet a cautionary morality tales, which Paul Thomas Anderson indicates is unintentional, unless he is playing the Cannes Film Festival press conference game. As it is, this movie was loved by the multi-national, big name critics gathered at the Cannes Film Festival, but it will confuse and offend many moviegoers.
PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE opens with Barry Egan, played brilliantly by Adam Sandler (who would have thought?), sitting at a crowded desk in a very unattractive and very empty warehouse. On the phone, Barry asks pointed questions about an offer on Healthy Choice food products which give the buyer a large amount of American Airlines frequent flyer mileage for a purchase of any Healthy Choice product. This deal is too good to be true. Barry asks the person on the phone if they know the value of the offer and the fact that they will be losing money. The person is clueless.
Barry steps outside to think and watch the dawning of the new day. Suddenly, a truck flips over in front of his warehouse with a terrible crashing sound. Next, a van stops at the warehouse entrance and drops off an old harmonium.
Lena Leonard, played with aplomb by Emily Watson, parks her car near his office and asks if he will watch it and give the keys to the garage when they open.
Later, as Barry tries to negotiate with clients about his line of custom toilet plungers, complete with dice or other ornaments, each of his seven sisters calls to make sure he is coming to the party that night. Barry has been henpecked by his sisters all his life. He avoids female companionship. He retreats from reality.
Barry takes time to go to the supermarket to buy large quantities of the cheapest Healthy Choice product available, pudding. Back at the office, everyone, including his sister who visits, wants to know why he is buying all this Healthy Choice pudding.
At the party, Barry goes wild and destroys the picture windows. Evidently, he has a problem with controlling his aggression. After years of facing the criticisms of seven sisters, he is wound up tighter than a drum.
When Barry goes back to his apartment, he decides to call a phone sex service. They take his credit card number, his social security number, his vital statistics, and say that a woman will call him back. When the woman calls back, Barry just wants to talk. She asks about his business, and he says that it is doing well for a start up and is about to expand.
The next morning, the phone sex woman calls back and asks for a loan to pay her rent. He refuses, and she threatens to blackmail him.
Meanwhile, it turns out that Lena is interested in him and is a friend of one of his sisters. Barry gets up the nerve to ask her out. When he takes her to a restaurant later, he gets so uptight that he destroys the bathroom and has to leave.
Later, Barry cancels his credit cards. The phone sex woman calls him and gets angry that he canceled his cards. She sends a bunch of thugs from Utah to extort money from him. They frighten him.
So, when Lena goes to Hawaii, Barry follows. They fall into a strange love affair complete with each other describing the horrible sadistic things they want to do to the other.
When they return, the thugs crash Barry’s car, putting a deep, bloody gash in Lena’s head. Barry gets out of his car and beats these guys to a pulp. He is mean and strong from years of beating up buildings. Now, he has to face the leader of the gang in Utah.
PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE is such a clear-cut cautionary tale about the wages of phone sex sin that the reporters in Cannes asked Paul Thomas Anderson if that was his intent. No, he replied with a coy smile, “I like phone sex.” All his answers to the press conference questions had the same disingenuous quality. However, whether he intended it or not, his movie is a morality tale. It is also a weird love story which had one reporter crying, an intense comedy, a paranoid thriller, a surrealistic dream, a story about the redemption of airline miles, an investigation about rage, and purportedly based on a true story. All of this is bundled sweetly into a concoction that had some of the audience of hardened critics howling with laughter, while others cried over the sweet love story’s sadistic edge.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s direction is so good that Adam Sandler jettisons his moronic attitudes and gives a very convincing performance, and Emily Watson transforms herself from a British frump into a femme fatale with a walk that won’t stop. Mr. Anderson maneuvers this movie through a minefield of his own making and comes out with the audience in his hand.
An important part of the success of the movie is the powerful sound track and brilliant music by Jon Brion, which transforms the story into a mythic tale. The camerawork is also exceptional.
This tale is supposed to be based on a true story of a man who got thousands of frequent flyer miles. If this man is similar to Barry, he is a time bomb waiting to explode. If he is not, he should sue.
The foul language in this movie is extreme. The violence is intense. Barry lies throughout to cover for his actions, but starts to confess the truth to Lena as he falls in love with her.
The biggest problem in the movie is that fact that Barry and Lena have such an undertone of violence in their romance, hence the title: PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE, and the movie treats their sadistic dreams as sweet nothings. If Paul Thomas Anderson’s statement that he loves phone sex is true, then he is a classic example of Dr. Judith Reisman’s findings that pornography often leads to the objectification of the woman and to violent, sadistic fantasies, which are all too often acted out. Thus, the cautionary tale of the dangers lurking in the phone sex industry must be balanced with the enticement to perverse sex latent in the very fabric of the storyline.
PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE is going to get great press. It is an extremely well made movie with a cautionary message. Watch out, however, because it contains some very black humor and romance.