Punch-Drunk Love

Punch-Drunk Love ★★★★★

#3 on Berken's Favorite Movies Of All Time

Everyone involved in the making of Silver Linings Playbook should look on this movie and despair. This is how you make an offbeat indie rom-com with a bipolar protagonist, David O. Russell. You can, for that matter, give your audience a happy, uplifting ending without resorting to Hollywood cliches and ending everything with a "you had me at hello" style rom-com one-liner, you just have to put a little bit more effort into it.

It's sort of incredible how Paul Thomas Anderson reinvented his whole toolkit to fit the protagonist and universe he was working with here. My favorite touch is how the camera hounds Barry every time he's flustered, following him around as he bobs and weaves anxiously, as if the camera were an embodiment of the troubles the outside world keeps presenting him and that he can never seem to escape. Meanwhile, a chaotic, almost tribal percussion track perfectly represents his simmering frustration as it slowly comes to a boil.

Ultimately, however, this is a whimsical indie romance and Anderson pulls out still more tricks to keep the tone correspondingly light and vaguely surreal - from the spectrum of colors that intermittently dance across the screen like some kind of fluorescent ultrasound, to the silly Hitchcock-ian strings that play as Barry uselessly flees thieving punks, to the perfectly matched gaudy red and blue outfits Barry and Lena wear on their first date. Most telling about the nature of this movie's universe is the presence of a harmonium - dropped off, comically, right after a bizarre car crash and, serendipitously, right before Barry first meets Lena - the warm, waltzing tones of which gradually begin to take precedence on the soundtrack over the aforementioned percussion, as Lena slowly becomes the center around which Barry's life orbits.

In short, this is a shameless feast of style where every ingredient is perfectly in harmony with the overall playful energy of the movie. It's not remotely subtle, but it has no need to be given the lightness inherent in the genre.

And yet as with every Anderson movie, it seems, the real story is the central performance and the character it's in service of. I'm certainly not the first to admit that I had no idea Adam Sandler - he of fart jokes, "funny" accents, and the travesty that is Jack and Jill - was capable of creating someone as incredible as Barry Egan. Yet he did create him and somehow that creation is as real, flawed, and magnificent of a creation as Joaquin Pheonix' Freddie Quell is in The Master. Sandler is equally adept at portraying Barry as a bumbling, pathetic pile of nerves as he is at unleashing Barry's rage when the time calls for it. Moreover, he's impossible to not empathize with and care for throughout, even when he's beating the living shit out of people. With most other actors that scene in particular could have been as dark as, well, any similar scene with Freddie Quell in The Master; with Sandler, it's deeply cathartic. Not to harp on the same point, but anyone who thinks Bradley Cooper really deserved an Oscar nomination for Silver Linings Playbook needs to rewatch this performance.

Finally, I have to acknowledge this - yes, I pretty much have a new number one movie every few days. Yes, it will probably change again some time soon. For now, however, this is my favorite film from my favorite living auteur and that's enough to earn the top spot in my book.

Year 2002 on my Hollywood Century Project

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