All You Need is Love
Punch-Drunk Love: Special Edition
Normally, Adam Sandler (Billy Madison, Funny People) does not impress me. Prior to 2002, I cannot think of one movie that he has been featured in that I feel compelled to revisit. His films are excessively idiotic and lack charm in all areas and I find that viewing them either kills my brain cells or gives me an hour and a half to contemplate suicide. When it was initially screened, Cannes honored Paul Thomas Anderson’s (Boogie Nights, Magnolia) Punch-Drunk Love (2002) by giving it the best director award and I can see why. Anderson was the first director to get a performance out of Adam Sandler, and not just a good one, a great one.
Sandler stars as Barry Egan, a variation on his stereotypical sociopath in need of anger management therapy. However, what Anderson does is takes this trait and actually gives the character a reason and background for sudden bursts of fury. Egan is a shy, confused victim and the brief fits of rage are a symptom, not a cause for hilarity. Sandler, working from Anderson’s screenplay, is required to keep his mania in check. While he is undoubtedly a wounded, at times ugly, person, Anderson and Sandler allow us to understand his plight and that understanding makes all the difference.
The films begins as Egan overlooks the Los Angeles valley, which in the glow of the coming sunrise gives the film a surrealistic edge that is later put to the forefront via the animations of Jeremy Blake. A small harmonium is dropped out of a van after an unexpected event and Barry hauls it to his nearby business, a novelty toiletry company. During these opening moments, he encounters Lena, a secretive, sweet English woman (played especially well by Emily Watson). We notice a brief burst of chemistry, but Barry’s personality causes him to retreat into his turtle shell. The two characters begin to experiment with a relationship reminiscent of Amelie with some bizarre interactions.
There are other plot threads that keep the romance suspended in a web of discomfort. Barry’s anxious, short attention span sends him from calling a phone sex line to being blackmailed by its owner, the sleazy “mattress man” Dean (Anderson regular Phillip Seymour Hoffman). When he isn’t seeking companionship at 99 cents a minute, Barry is taking advantage of a poorly worded campaign marketing frequent flyer miles for cups of pudding and running his niche business as a toiletry vendor. Finally, we are given glimpses into the cause of his psychosis: family drama, a maelstrom of belittlement that is the product of his seven sisters. However, it is his attraction with Lena that drives Barry away from his anger, causing him to re-evaluate his personality and find another venue for his emotions.
The first time I saw Punch-Drunk Love, I felt the film was terribly short and could have used some embellishment (It didn’t need to be the three hour length of Anderson’s other films, but I would have loved to see more of Barry’s interactions with Phillip Seymour Hoffman, his sisters, and his co-workers). Re-watching the film more recently, I felt that the length was perfect as the film doesn’t overstay its welcome. We are thrust into an uncomfortable position for ninety-five minutes, trying to understand Sandler’s flawed Barry as Jon Brion’s score places us into his shoes (the sound design of the film as a whole puts us continually on the edge of a panic attack, and I mean that as a complement). This is a real love story; one that resists the urge to become overly sweet and the result is sublime.
The AV Quality
The special edition of Punch-Drunk Love was originally released on a Sony Superbit DVD, which boasted slightly stronger bitrates than the average DVD along with mandatory surround sound audio tracks (both Dolby and DTS). The picture quality and audio tracks, especially the 6.1 DTS, are pretty damn strong for a non-HD release (the film has been released on Blu-Ray but I haven’t felt the urge to double-dip yet). Just be prepared to take a Prozac because of that Brion score.
The Supplemental Features
The supplements on this two-disc set leave quite a bit to be desired. Despite the special edition treatment, the second disc of the set isn’t nearly as stacked as the releases for Boogie Nights (which featured a barrage of commentary tracks) or Magnolia (which featured a superb hour-long documentary about the making of the film). Sony gives us “Blossoms and Blood,” an oddly abridged version of the film constructed out of deleted scenes and outtakes that clocks in at about twenty minutes, along with some Scopitones (small animations featured in the movie), two deleted scenes and, my favorite, a Mattress Man commercial. On the whole, the package is pretty underwhelming and is one reason why I’ve resisted the Blu-Ray (they didn’t add any supplemental features and the AV quality is already pretty top notch). I would have loved to hear a commentary between Anderson and Sandler or at least liked to see the inclusion of some of the press material from Cannes. A disappointing treatment of a stellar film.
Drew Morton is a Ph.D. student in Cinema and Media Studies at the University of California-Los Angeles. His criticism and articles have previously appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the UWM Post, Flow, Mediascape, The Playlist, and Senses of Cinema. He is the 2008 and 2010 recipient of the Otis Ferguson Award for Critical Writing in Film Studies.
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