If Picasso drew a comic strip, it would be a really good comic strip. That’s the feeling you get with Paul Thomas Anderson’s newest endeavor, Punch-Drunk Love.
It is what what Picasso would be if he would have drawn comic strips. An artist stepping out of his genre. It’s the dark, complex dramatics of Magnolia and Boogie Nights meets the traditional straight ahead romantic comedy.
On the surface, this is an Adam Sandler movie. Sandler (Big Daddy, Bulletproof) plays lovable loser Barry Egan, who, with his plunger business and always present blue suit, screams Sandler character.
He’s heckled by his seven well-meaning sisters, all foul-mouthed and all hilarious and is introduced by one of them to her cute co-worker, Lena Leonard, an especially well cast Emily Watson (Angela’s Ashes, Red Dragon).
But this blossoming relationship goes awry when a phone sex line call comes back to haunt Barry. The phone sex girl demands money, and when Barry refuses to pay, she sends her four brothers after him with the thumbs up of her sleazy boss, Dean Trumbell, played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Magnolia, Patch Adams).
Sounds like a light-hearted mischievous romp, right? Don’t believe that for a second.
From the opening scene where Sandler walks out of his warehouse office, his electric-blue suit offsetting the dreary industrial set, and witnesses a car violently flip over, the movie is all P.T. Anderson.
The ‘regular hilarity ensues’ formula doesn’t win a man best director at Cannes, such as Punch-Drunk Love did for Anderson. He uses jump cuts and layered shots, plays with colour and sound and creates his trademark dark atmosphere.
Take Sandler’s role. With his bursts of violence and sporadic crying fits, he’s a dramatic character. True, he does provide a good portion of jokes in the movie, but they’re equally distributed to all the characters. He also provides some tears and anxiety, a veritable rainbow of personality.
Anderson expertly handles romance as well. Sandler and Watson’s on-screen I-never-want-to-not-see-you love affair is charming and cute in all the right places. Together, Barry and Lena are everything you’d ever want in a relationship, sweet like a chocolate valentine and so intense it cuts you with jealousy.
Their romantic climax in Hawaii, shot on location in Oahu, provides the most endearing, and, arguably, the best ten minutes of the movie. You have to wonder if Anderson hasn’t recently had his own cruise on the good ship ‘Gettin Some’.
And it’s funny, too. Really funny. But not the kind of quirky love-story funny you’d find in a regular romantic comedy. Sandler’s phone sex conversation is a moment that comes to mind. It’s not perfect.
Sometimes the ambiguity and randomness detracts from the film. An unexplained and possibly pointless appearance of a harmonium early on in the movie is never explained or really expanded on. Maybe I just don’t get it. But who cares?
Once in a while Hollywood makes a movie that matches the wit of the audience. Punch-Drunk Love may be the first romantic comedy that does so.
So guys, get your brainy gal out of the house and hope that this sets the precedent. Who knows, we may never have to see Meg Ryan ever again.