Friday, June 1, 2012

Netflix This: Punch-Drunk Love

     Adam Sandler's career path began at a very high water mark--being one of the best parts of SNL (at the time), releasing gut-bustingly hilarious comedy albums (at the time), and putting out a couple of simple films (Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore) that caused thousands of kids to yell at swans, admit it's cool to pee your pants, and want to beat the Hell out of Bob Barker--then it quickly plummeted to the depths of a feces-clogged drain pipe, filling up with more and more excrement year after year after year, and finally culminating in last year's massive cinematic defecation titled Jack and Jill. Yes, there were also a couple of anomalies, a few tasty morsels of corn that broke free from the thick plug: one was Reign Over Me, a film sort-of based around a man's experience with September 11th, a film that showcased Sandler's sad and powerful dramatic performance. The other is Punch-Drunk Love, the (easily) best film that Sandler stars in and one of my favorite films of the 21st century.
     Punch-Drunk Love is not the Sandler film that you grew up with. If you just love his playful banter with Kevin James in I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, his super crazy hair and attitude in You Don't Mess with the Zohan, or his child-like friendships in Grown Ups, one, you like really shitty movies, and two, it's safe to say you will hate Punch-Drunk Love. Here are the reasons: for one, Love is directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, the director of American classics Boogie Nights, Magnolia and There Will Be Blood. His style and directing prowess is impeccable, causing every scene--even scenes depicting (usually) boring acts of everyday life or two characters chatting about (seemingly) nothing important--to fill up to a breaking point of tension. Every film he directs is literally a work of moving art.
     The plot probably won't interest any fans of Sandler's tepid romantic comedies (like Just Go With It): Barry Egan (Sandler) owns a company that markets and sells different variations of plungers. He takes plungers very seriously (unlike Sandler's real-life agent in regards to his film career). He has seven sisters that are always invading his life and personal space, constantly harassing him about his job and love life. The frustration that this causes occasionally makes Barry rage-filled: he often takes out his anger on inanimate objects like sliding glass doors or public bathroom stalls. He eventually meets Lena (Emily Watson), a woman who somehow finds Barry funny and charming. Before their budding relationship comes into fruition, Barry calls a phone sex line because he lives alone and is lonely. What follows is a quirky drama involving stolen credit card information, henchmen looking to distort money, a showdown with a pimp/mattress store owner played wonderfully by Philip Seymour Hoffman, and a master plan to try and acquire a million frequent flier miles involving a loophole in a Healthy Choice pudding promotion (based upon a true story). If it sounds weird, that's because it is. It's also complex and the work of a film making genius.
     Upon watching Punch-Drunk Love, an easy thing to notice is the film's brilliant color scheme. It can  be seen even in the films theatrical trailer:

Most of the color of the film is shot in the different shades of red, white and blue. Clearly, one can make assumptions and draw conclusions based on this fact: almost all of Barry's life before Lena is shot with blue hues. His apartment, his workplace, and in particular his suit are all shades of blue. Barry is sad: Barry is Blue. Red shows up more sparingly, but it is even more important: Lena (the one happy part of Barry's life once she enters it), is generally wearing the color red. Other objects of red often catch Barry's eye: an arrow pointing in a specific direction, people dressed in red showing Barry the way. It's very cool, and worth looking into if you've seen Punch-Drunk Love and are a fan. Click this sentence to read a good essay on the matter.
     Back in 2002, when this film was released, it was easy to imagine that Punch-Drunk Love might have been the spark needed to light an exciting fire under Sandler, causing him to venture outside of his comfort zone as a real actor who could surprise movie viewers with his aptitude and skill. There were even rumors that he was to star in Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds, but--unfortunately--it clearly didn't happen. He has been stuck on the same path ever since, rarely being actually funny and never being surprising. On the other hand, when one gets paid 20 million dollars to dress up as a woman and speak in gibberish,  one doesn't break free from the money-making formula. Maybe that will change in a few weeks when Sandler's new film, That's My Boy, gets released into cinemas. Maybe I wouldn't hold your breath.

(Punch-Drunk Love is available on Netflix Instant Streaming. Also, see a transfixing new teaser from Paul Thomas Anderson's mysterious new film, The Master, Here)

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