Movie: Punch-Drunk Love
Writer(s): Paul Thomas Anderson
Director(s): Paul Thomas Anderson
The trailers made this look a lot stranger than it is. It is unusual, but the story is surprisingly linear. It concerns a young man's (Adam Sandler) romance with a woman (Emily Watson). The odd pairing of slapstick comic with serious actress makes the film work: Sandler plays the straight man and while he's compentent (don't except an Oscar or anything), there isn't much emotional depth to his character (he's just a weird geek). Watson gives Sandler credibility and tones down the comic vibes. Her presence combined with Sandler's idiotic good guy likability makes it work. What makes the film interesting is the unusual approach to filmmaking. From cinematography to pacing to music, the film is just odd and unsettling. That works perfectly with the odd, unsettled characters in the story. There are lots of long tracking shots, following the characters as they walk out of a restaurant, for instance. Lighting is extremely significant, especially at the beginning, where we're treated to extreme constrasts of dark and blinding white. The music is wild, transitioning through a variety of conflicting styles, and occasionally being a strange mix of sounds most people would call noise. (But even there, it blends in cleverly with the ambient sounds of the film.) Unfortunately, while I found the film fascinating, the story and the characters were a little too empty. They were a touch pathetic and therefore one sympathizes with their situation, but I never felt like I understood or related to them. For instance, what draws Watson to Sandler? We're never told. She supposedly is attracted to him from seeing his picture, but surely his strange behavior would have either endeared him to her or frightened her off, but there's no indication of either. Instead, she seems to have the same crush on him she had at the start. We're also not given much to work with regarding Sandler's character. There are glimpses of his past -- he has seven sisters who drive him nuts, and he's occasionally violent -- but we don't really understand him. He says "I don't know" a lot when people ask him questions. He's like Camus' The Stranger, a man without personality or motivation. Portions of Sandler's performance were too much like his idiot roles in Happy Gilmore or The Waterboy. Overall, this film feels like it was done by a director who wants to be avant garde and literary, but still produce a film that will do big box office. The casting is proof of that. I'm sure it will be successful financially, but there's no real depth here behind the camera tricks and odd characters. Worth seeing just because it's unusual, but don't expect too much.