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Punch-Drunk Love
Yes, Virginia, There Is a Symbolic Meaning to Pudding
writ/dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
str. Adam Sandler, Emily Watson, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Luis Guzman


I hate it when a movie review involves the previous works of the cast or crew. It feels somehow cheap and unfair to dredge up the past like that; like when you still call the fat kid from Jr. high 'Lard-Tits,' even though he's trimmed down to .7% body fat and is hot as hell. Anderson's two previous works, Boogie Nights and Magnolia were both such elegant films, that it is impossible not to judge Naderson's latest work in relation to them.

Boogie Nights was Anderson's take on an action movie, I always thought. It is charged with energy from the beginning, with an attention grabbing premise, a cavalcade of beautiful stars and a rocking sound track. The camera shots are fast paced and the sets are flashy. It's like an action movie, except with a lot more drugs and a lot more sex, and a lot less explosion.

Magnolia was his take on drama. While he casts many of the same actors who appear in Boogie Nights, the focus is more on their characters than their situations. And while virtually every character in the movie manages to stir you in one direction or the other, the drama of their lives is overshadowed by the quirk of coincidence that sits as the uneasy theme of the film. While truly dramatic, and with some very moving performance, Magnolia never dips into the melodramatic; this is what makes the movie so remarkable.

Punch-Drunk Love therefore could easily be seen as a take on a romantic comedy. However it is not nearly as elegant as his last two films.


Pros

Cocaine. Anderson, it is reported, writes while constantly under the influence of many grams of cocaine. And cocaine is, as we all know, a very GOOD thing. It turns what could be a very sedentary love story into a frenetic tale full of quirky side stories and fascinating and confusing, but understandable characters.

Anderson has always produced technically smart films. The sound is excellent in the film. Not the music, necessarily, but Anderson's use of sound. He unitizes sound and color and light with a masterful effect. He has proven time and again that his imagination when it comes to his craft is boundless and his true gift is the ability to achieve the things he so wildly dreams of.

Sandler's goofiness lends itself easily to the role of Barry Egan. Physically he fits the role well, being both adorable and somewhat repugnant at the same time, and his inherent comic style perfectly lightens what would have otherwise been a tragic, pitiful character. And while there is no mistaking Sandler for himself, there are very few spots where he slips into the aging frat boy with a heart of gold that has won him so much money.

Where the last two movies were long and swept over many, many stories, and many, many characters, Punch-Drunk Love only covers one story line, and it does it well. The cast, in comparison, is tiny, but Anderson manages it well.


Cons

Cocaine. Anderson, it is reported, writes while constantly under the influence of many grams of cocaine. And cocaine is, as we all know, a very BAD thing. It turns what should have been a straight-forward simple story into an assault on the senses full of superfluous musical instruments (what the hell is a harmonium, and what is it doing in this movie!), and an abundance of desserts (the pudding, my god! the pudding!) and siblings.

The cinematography. While there are some very neat camera tricks that lets you know, without a doubt, who is the mind behind the movie, they don't really manage to set a very tangible mood. The visuals just don't live up to Punch-Drunk Love's predecessors. The tricks are cool, but

The writing also doesn't sparkle quite as much. The plot, while elegant, feels a little lacking; Anderson doesn't seem to try as hard with his storytelling or imagination and, instead, relies on his technical savvy to pull the viewer into his world. The movie opens with an awesome, but completely unexplained car crash, for example. It is loud and impressive looking, but never works its way into the story; however it's so loud and demands so much of your attention, that you cannot readily forget about it.


Ratings

Support: Three Wonder-bras
The supporting cast is terrific. Luis Guzman, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and all of the seven sisters hold this movie up so Sandler can strut his stuff. It would have been nice to see a little more of them, especially the sisters, but they all work very well as the glue to the story.

Artistic: Masturbation Four of John C. Holmes' Big Yellow Bananas
What with the car crash opening, the clever lighting (or lack thereof), the brilliant sound engineering, the influx of pudding containers and that god damned harmonium, Anderson is definitely jacking his artistic wang just a little too much.

Adam Sandlerosity: Two-and-a-half Billy Madisions
People will say just how amazing Sandler is, and what a fabulous actor he has become, and "Hasn't he just blown the lid off his old movie persona?" That's all crap. To compare Punch-Drunk Love to the run-of-the-mill Sandler flick is like comparing apples to shit. Sandler is a fairly decent actor, with a very fine comic sensibility. And to watch Sandler actually act in a movie is cool, but he is just as good as one would expect him to be.

Overall Hipness: Two-and-a-half Marky Marks with enormous prosthetic cocks
People who appreciated Boogie Nights and Magnolia will likewise see Anderson's mastery at work here. But Punch-Drunk Love is less entertaining than his last two, and much less magical. That being said, this is still a really good movie, it's just got too big a name to live up to.

B.C. Edwards



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