Saturday, August 13, 2005

"Punch-Drunk Love"

Thanks to NetFlix, tonight Tra and I watched Punch-Drunk Love, a P.T. Anderson film starring Adam Sandler.

Unusual film. Technically, it's very adept. Anderson interlaces the narrative with random bursts of colored psychedelia; whether it's intended to evoke the protagonist's sudden bursts of violent anger or represents a previously unknown clause in the 'R' rating ("may be unsuitable for children and remarkably more enjoyable with chemical enhancement"), I don't know. But it did give Tra and me time to catch our breaths and exchange those, "what do you think?" looks. Anyway. Anderson's use of color and symbolism are effective if none too subtle -- Sandler's Barry Egan wears the same blue suit in nearly every scene, and Emily Watson's Lena Leonard wears red throughout. The film's look is colored by blue hues and overtones.

The film is essentially a dyspeptic love story about Barry and Lena. We learn surface details about them, but Anderson has created troubled, complex characters whose backstories we can only imagine. Lena has not had a boyfriend for 6 months and was previously married. She works with one of Barry's 7 domineering sisters. She travels often. Barry is lonely, fastidious, afraid of introspection. His life is full of paradox. He buys Healthy Choice pudding by the truckload in order to redeem frequent flyer miles, but we learn he has never flown before. He shuns risk and confrontation, yet owns a small business, which requires all kinds of risk and initiative. That these two people should find love together seems implausible but not entirely illogical.

Unpredictability is perhaps the film's hallmark. There is a subplot involving phone sex scam artists and their thugs; another is Barry's tension with his sisters. In fact, Anderson's ability to keep tension levels ratcheted ever higher is remarkable; Barry's frustration simmers beneath the surface at all times, and we're never quite sure if his violence can be confined to inanimate objects like bathroom fixtures. Barry seems mild-mannered and bland most of the time, which is why his emotional outbursts and sudden tantrums are so jarring.

But finding love and channeling these impulses in a positive way pushes him to grow. We see him start to stand up for himself, and he does so in quirky ways that reflect his unique persona (including an innocent call to his sister that begins with a request for information and quickly escalates to angry threats). That Anderson was able to garner sympathy for the character, and even made me care a little, is perhaps the film's best achievement.

My final impression was that I liked where the film ended, but not how it got there. I need to devise my own ratings system but a '6.5' on a scale of 1-10 works for now.


Mark said...

Why the hell aren't you writing a syndicated column yet??? I'd rather read your writing instead of the drivel in Creative Loafing!

Miss you buddy - but now that i've found the blog - will be able to check in on you from time to time!
WOOO!!! Spader!

J Ballot said...


Great to hear from you! Thanks for the props, but as we both know, I have little chance of ever landing a syndicated column. For one thing, my iconoclastic opinions aren't exactly "respectable" for polite society. And for another, I'm quite happy toiling in obscurity. The blog gives me total freedom and editorial control -- when to write, what about, etc. It's narcissicism and spleen venting all in one! :)

The best part about the blog is that it helps me keep in touch -- admittedly one of my greatest failings. As you probably noticed, I've done a bit of blogrolling with a few folks, including Abe and Larry, and it has helped us stay in touch. I hope you do check in from time to time and keep posting comments. Always great to hear from you, so if the blog helps us keep in touch, so much the better!