Punch-Drunk Love Review

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Novelty toilet plunger manufacturer Barry's bland exterior masks permanent tension, exacerbated by the constant nagging of his seven sisters. When his tentative romance with gentle Lena is disrupted and he's menaced by phone sex extortionist his life starts taking some unexpected turns.


Paul Thomas Anderson is such a genius that he has successfully created an anti-Adam Sandler movie that proves to be a highly defining moment for the actor. Sandler's socially inept Barry Egan is superficially a lot like the persona he always parades in his nitwit comedies: nice, innocent and burdened with anger management issues that make him fly off the handle in sudden outbursts of rage.

But this time he's a sad little man with many shades of darkness. He is so tightly buttoned-up, so lonely, so angry, so stressed and so close to despair that it occurs to us that he might do something really extreme and horrible.

Barry doesn't mass-murder his family although, given the earful he gets from his sisters, you wouldn't be the least bit surprised if he did. With his small business struggling and no-one to love, he timidly treats himself to a spot of phone sex, only to be hounded in a nasty extortion racket masterminded by the deeply unpleasant Dean (Anderson-regular Hoffman getting in touch with his inner brute).

Sweet, offbeat Lena (Watson, relishing a calming character who is on an even keel) seems to like him for some reason, however. It's his unwavering determination to pursue her that gives Barry the resolve to use his head. His new-found love also prompts the mouse to roar. One of the joys of this film, although it is unlikely to impress Sandler fans who are wedded to the formulaic chucklesome shtick he turns out in 'Mr. Deeds' or 'Little Nicky', is that you really have no idea what's going to happen next.

It's also bright and perky-looking, in sharp contrast to its protagonist's stormy state of mind. Anderson's direction is simply captivating and exquisitely controlled, with a restless mood and no end of fascinating, beautifully-orchestrated oddness - like the baffling car crash that opens the film, our hero's acquisition of a harmonium, and Barry immersed in one of his ballistic mini-dramas at a pay phone when a parade passes by.

Offbeat romantic comedy doesn't come quirkier than this. It's very cute, very weird and madly diverting. Anderson has a firm grip on Sandler's dangerous essence and draws it out in an astonishing performance.