Punch-Drunk Love

Punch-Drunk Love ★★★★★

I couldn’t help myself. I was sitting in my empty dorm room, late at night, trying to find a movie to watch, and I just had to see Punch-Drunk Love again. I’m glad I did. This is a movie so unconventional, so unique, so artistic, and so downright cinematic, that it entirely transcends the bounds of what most normal movies can achieve, especially in a runtime this short. And yet, for all its zany weirdness, it is an accessible movie; a movie that, at its core, is about an individual who is abused by the world for his quirkiness, and ultimately, in the end, finds love by simply being himself. It’s a story that would sound so cliched if it weren’t done in a manner that breaks from conventions and pushes boundaries at every turn, and is so intrinsically earnest in its depiction of love.

There are so many things to love this movie for, I don’t even know where to begin. The score is strange and overpowering and unique, and yet, at certain instances, achieves a blissful magic reminiscent of a Disney movie. The color palette is as deliberate as it is beautiful, neither of which are often achieved by most movies, which are usually either uninspired or bland in their colors. Then again, Punch-Drunk Love isn’t most movies. 

And then there’s the way the scenes are constructed, brilliantly structured so that each element is set up and delivered on in a manner which is somehow both chaotically cacophonous, yet uniquely wonderful. This structure is most notable in the scene where Barry is at work, and is being bombarded by his sister, his love interest, and the scammer from the phone-sex line all at the same time. There are events that transpire in this scene that are completely nonsensical, like machinery randomly crashing into shelves, that only add to the wonderful, chaotic energy it creates. People are constantly interrupting each other and clashing with one another, and it’s the time of scene that reminds you of how great cinema is; how it’s not simply a way to approximate the written word in a visual format, but, rather, can be something much more, and much more alive, when helmed by the right person.

That person, in the case of Punch-Drunk Love, is Paul Thomas Anderson, who is quickly becoming one of my all-time favorite directors. Aside from the brilliance of the script, the direction is in itself inspiring to watch; he never opts for obvious or standard coverage, crafting each shot with thought and precision and a sort of genius that is impossible to describe. This is not to even mention the performance he gets out of Adam Sandler, who proves himself to be a genuinely great actor when given the right role, despite the fact that Hollywood seems to always be intent upon putting him in the stupidest and most obvious roles possible. There is an earnestness to Barry’s character that he is able to evoke; a timid kindness that by the end develops into a strength and confidence as he tears down those who have oppressed him, because he finally has something in the world to love. 

Of course, I would be remiss if I did not mention the scene where he is on the phone with Phillip Seymour Hoffman, one of the most enjoyable dialogue scenes ever committed to film. I never get tired of watching these two lob profanity-laden insults at one another, to the point where Hoffman’s character is driven to yell just the word “shut” four consecutive times. And yet, even here, for something as simple as a phone conversation, the direction remains inspired; there are two sweeping push-ins on Hoffman that precede it as the score builds into an epic sort of marching band anthem, and, for the shots of Sandler, the camera follows him as he paces back and forth, cutting in close, giving his unhinged performance the visceral energy it calls for. Just this scene alone is one of the most inspiring scenes cinema has to offer.

The first two times I saw Punch-Drunk Love, I liked it very much, but wasn’t quite sure of its greatness. This time, I am. It is so disjointed, brining in so many random and almost nonsensical pieces, and yet, coalesces into one, beautiful masterpiece. This is like if the Sistine Chapel were made entirely of magazine clippings, which is a praise of the highest order. It’s a movie that’s fun and exciting, deep and profound, strange and unique, and, in the end, is something sort of magical.

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