In the wake of Valentine’s Day, it’s only right to revisit one film streaming on Netflix that expresses the lonely, the anxious and confusing effects of love.
“Punch-Drunk Love” was released Oct. 11, 2002, and its refreshing take on romance connects almost 17 years beyond its release. Brian McInnis best summarized Paul Thomas Anderson’s directorial achievement on IMDb.
“A psychologically troubled novelty supplier (Adam Sandler) is nudged toward a romance with an English woman (Emily Watson), all the while being extorted by a phone-sex line run by a crooked mattress salesman, and purchasing stunning amounts of pudding.”
Sandler plays Barry Egan, the novelty supplier and Watson plays Lena Leonard.
Barry and Lena find themselves in a relationship after she was introduced by his sister. But the film does not completely center on their one-on-one relationship.
Sandler’s character almost becomes the symbol of the intrapersonal complications of simply wanting someone to talk to. The unsuccessful way he talks or acts in the search for company is felt in Sandler's performance.
As confusing as the movie may sound, what makes “Punch-Drunk Love” a different spin on romantic comedies is the ability to provoke the feelings of love through emotive storytelling and the exploration of internal struggle.
Barry suffers from anger issues throughout the film that could have been caused by his turbulent upbringing with his seven sisters.
Smashing glass windows, vandalizing restaurant bathrooms and yelling at a mattress salesman all stimulate from his own psychological battles, along with the situations placed upon him. Barry cannot seem to balance his mundane lifestyle as a novelty supplier and his bursts of violent displays.
Barry being trapped into a phone-sex hotline scam and purchasing massive amounts of pudding are just subplots into what the film is really getting at.
“Punch-Drunk Love” encapsulates the anxiety-filled trip of finding peace in yourself through relationships. Anderson’s use of color attached to Jon Brion’s score are ways the images and the music stir the emotion throughout this journey.
Barry is wearing a blue suit in the film, which evokes the feeling of sadness and isolation. This is seen right at the start with the opening shot of Barry sitting at his desk in the corner of a warehouse. His position in the frame helps further produce that isolation feeling. We only see him in one-third of the shot and the rest of the frame is consumed by the blue walls and the empty warehouse.
Lena is dressed in colors that express passion and love. Whether she is dressed in a purple sweater or a red dress, it contrasts Barry’s outfit in every scene they are in together.
The transitional scenes include the other ways color is used. Anderson will display a rush of color onto the screen and patterns that emulate piano keys, which calls back to the piano Barry takes earlier in the film.
There are scenes where the sunlight casts over Barry and Lena, forcing the viewer to focus on their silhouettes. The colors are stripped and we can only take in the natural shape of the characters.
From the costume choices to the interpretive visuals, this film is relentless in its approach.
Brion’s score is overwhelming. It dominates and amplifies the already stress-inducing scenes. The chaotic ambience plays its own role, whether it be in the scenes with Barry and his sister, or with the shots that are solely focused on him.
“Punch-Drunk Love” can relate to anyone that has gone through the stress, the anger, the sadness and even the humorous waves of love. It’s an unexpected sensory exercise dealing with themes of personal struggle in romance and that’s what makes it an outlier among the genre.