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Episode 146 - Punch-Drunk Love (w/ Emily Yoshida)


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Poll: Episode 146 - Punch-Drunk Love (w/ Emily Yoshida) (48 member(s) have cast votes)

Should "Punch-Drunk Love" enter The Canon?

  1. Yes (33 votes [68.75%])

    Percentage of vote: 68.75%

  2. No (15 votes [31.25%])

    Percentage of vote: 31.25%

Vote Guests cannot vote

#1 Dalton Maltz

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Posted 18 March 2018 - 09:50 PM

This week, film critic and host of the podcast Night Call Emily Yoshida joins Amy to discuss the 2002 Paul Thomas Anderson film “Punch-Drunk Love.” They talk about the film’s stylized rage, the strange charm of Adam Sandler, the clever camerawork and costuming and the relationship between the two lead characters.

#2 TakeTheRisk

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Posted 19 March 2018 - 04:08 AM

Instant yes from me, although I do have some gripes over the underdevelopment of Emily Watson's character. Generally for a love story to work, the leads should be equally as interesting as one another. This clearly is not the case in Punchdrunk love where Adam Sandler exhibits all of the quirk and Watson is haplessly swept up into his chaotic momentum.

That said, thankfully the movie works on so many other levels. Through the pulsating sound design balanced with visually striking moments, the movie feels like a living organism, expressing it's anxiety and wonder on a hypnotic, subconscious level. PT Anderson knows how to make a film.

Ultimately, the film takes a risk on Sandler, an actor grounded in obnoxious frathouse comedy, to give an uncharacteristic dramatic performance, and it chose very well. Barry is an atypical romantic lead. He is wounded in ways he doesn't understand well enough to share, he seems uncertain of his place in any sort of social context. His anxiety about exporting uncharted emotional territory manifests in ways that only seem necessary in the mind of a nervous person (the airline points on pudding cups sequence, for example). It is this imperfection which makes him so much more relatable than prototypical male romantic lead, and why I made sure to show this movie to the woman who would become my wife very early on as a warning of what a relationship with me could potentially be like. 9 years later, still no cornea damaging car-crashes, so there's that.
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#3 daustin

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Posted 19 March 2018 - 09:04 AM

Soft no. Very good movie, but not an all-time great for me.

Honestly, as good as PTA's stuff generally is, if I were putting together my desert island box of 50-100 movies I'm stuck with forever, the only PTA film that makes my list is Boogie Nights.
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#4 roflscooter

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Posted 19 March 2018 - 10:25 AM

Amy and Emily missed a huge detail! Lena is stalking Barry in the beginning of the movie. She brings her car in to get it fixed so that she can spy on Barry, then in one of the scenes where he is in the grocery store looking for pudding you can see her in the background following him around the store. A lot of people think that she is a normal person who falls for Barry even though he is a damaged weirdo, but the grocery store scene proves that she is a creepy stalker. She sees a picture of Barry on his sister's desk at work, stalks him to get more information, and then engineers their first meeting. That's why she is so unfazed by his personality and things like getting thrown out of the restaurant. She already knows all about him.

#5 sycasey 2.0

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Posted 19 March 2018 - 12:50 PM

I wasn't a big fan of this movie when it was first released, but I knew that there was a polarized reaction to it. Some people absolutely loved it. Others were left cold. Come to think of it, that sounds like the reaction to every Paul Thomas Anderson movie!

This rewatch helped me like the film more. Some of my greater appreciation came from having seen Phantom Thread, because I think these two films approach a similar idea from different angles. Both are about damaged people in possibly toxic relationships . . . but this toxicity kind of works for them, maybe?

Phantom Thread approaches this theme more from the outside, as though we are observing both characters from more of a "God's eye" view. Punch-Drunk Love seems to be entirely from the perspective of the Sandler character. I would even argue that the movie is basically taking place inside his head, and the various characters we see are really internal projections, people created by Barry's own mind as a way of working through his personal issues. I don't think PTA literally made his movie about a guy trapped in his own mind (almost nothing he does is ever that literal), but it does make a lot more sense when you look at the events of the film that way. All of the impressionistic framing and music certainly feeds this idea of an intensely personal examination of one man's psyche, not necessarily a realistic presentation of how his world truly exists.

There certainly was something in the air around that time, as we got a lot of memorable films centered around this idea: a man at war with his own mind. Think about Fight Club, Adaptation, Being John Malkovich, I Heart Huckabees, etc. That's probably not something you'd see as much these days, as this kind of navel-gazing (particularly white male navel-gazing) seems to have gone out of style. But comparing this to the most recent PTA is a good way to note this change of focus and how you can still make films about the same subjects by just tweaking the POV a little. I'm sure we all have our preferences with him, but the guy is a master filmmaker.

I'm still a "no" vote on this, as for me Punch-Drunk Love is still near the bottom of the PTA list (only Inherent Vice lands lower), and I do still think that Sandler's performance feels more like a stunt than something deeply-felt. I intellectually understand the structural reasons why the Emily Watson character doesn't get the same level of development, but that's part of why the relationship doesn't engage me emotionally (contrast to Phantom Thread, where I think we do get both sides of the relationship fully fleshed-out, despite my initial expectation that they wouldn't be).

I fully understand that this will probably get voted in (most PTA films probably would, on an up-or-down vote), and I get that there are people who personally identify with Barry Egan and for them this would be an easy yes vote. That's cool, it's just not my experience with the movie. It's good, not quite Canon level for me.

#6 Susan*

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Posted 19 March 2018 - 02:36 PM

I'm a strong "no" on this one. I don't think I've ever agreed with Amy more, so it's a waste to repeat. So I'll just hit a big one: I love Emily Watson so much, but her role is written so poorly I can't imagine why she would find him attractive. And man, I dislike Adam Sandler, but I really went into this movie wanting to set that aside--I had heard good things about this movie. I liked the set up and quirkiness at first but when the love story didn't work there was nothing left for me. The most positive thing I can say about Punch Drunk Love is that it's short.

For a movie to be Canon, I think it needs to be a movie I would recommend to someone, for some purpose, maybe just as an example of something, even if I don't like the movie. I wouldn't recommend this movie to anyone.

I never love PTA movies as much as other people, though I usually find them interesting and original and that goes a really long way with me. I really liked Inherent Vice and Phantom Thread for what that's worth. This is the only one that I full on disliked.

#7 Official Super Bowl®

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Posted 19 March 2018 - 02:56 PM

This was the best episode in a long time, so thanks for that.

I didn't think I'd need to watch this movie again before voting, but this episode has convinced me otherwise. I'll offer a few thoughts on this movie in the meantime, but I'm officially on the fence until the re-watch.

First up, full disclosure, I am somebody for whom Barry's loneliness and depression deeply resonate. I had the experience of seeing this movie on the big screen, among a sea of Adam Sandler fans, when it first came out. The scene where Barry breaks down while trying to describe his emotional isolation was especially memorable to me because, while I was connecting with Barry's desperation, nearly the entire audience erupted in laughter when Barry first collapsed into tears. They abruptly stopped when it became clear that they had misread the scene's intention, but it was fascinating to watch a movie palpably subvert an audience's expectations in real time--and deeply ironic to feel so alienated among a crowd of people, given the point of the scene.

On the other hand, this movie has always felt, to me, like kind of a sketch, cobbled together from a bunch of good and great ideas that don't necessarily fit together. And I think you could argue that every character in this film is underwritten. (I've always thought Punch-Drunk Love would be a masterpiece of a short film, if certain elements had been pared down or cut out completely.)

The air miles loophole is actually based on a real incident, and it's certainly a fascinating story--there are, to this day, people who travel around the world using similar loopholes--but it feels shoehorned into this movie. My understanding is that PTA originally wanted to do a straight-up Adam Sandler comedy (or at least toyed with the idea), and part of me thinks this movie was built on the wreckage of a much different movie, maybe an Adam Sandler vehicle about a little league coach who uses the air miles loophole to fly his ne'er-do-well team to the world championships. (In my version, Chris Sarandon plays the airline executive who tries to thwart them.)

But, if true, the story about PTA being artistically incapable of delivering a typical Adam Sandler comedy says a lot, not only about PTA as an artist, but about the artistic process itself. As I get older, I'm getting less and less interested in the "auteur" theory of film direction, but Paul Thomas Anderson's entire career is certainly a point in favor of the theory. As an artist, he is completely in control of his craft; if Punch-Drunk Love is kind of a sketch, it's still a lot more interesting than most other artists' fully-realized works.

#8 FrancisRizzo3

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Posted 19 March 2018 - 03:20 PM

I will quote from my own review of the Blu-ray Criterion release of the film, as I argue for inclusion in The Canon.

"It's a scrappy little oft-misunderstood collection of visuals, sounds and emotion that coalesces into something touching and oddly romantic--somewhat of a companion piece to Fight Club in exploring what it is to feel without having the necessary coping mechanisms to deal with the effects."

This certainly is a male-centric perspective, but Sandler's characters (at least until he aged out of this phase of his career) were always about the contained and then released rage. But for this film, that aspect actually had meaning, as Barry is someone who found a way to focus emotion he doesn't understand or know how to deal with into something potentially positive, summed up neatly when he says "I have a love in my life that makes me stronger than anything you can imagine." If any film should represent one of the biggest modern film stars like Sandler in The Canon, it should be Punch-Drunk Love.

"Though there's a story and dialogue that's effective and engaging, Punch-Drunk Love is as much about its feel as it is any other element, if not more so, with scenes that linger without plot progression, allowing the viewer to soak in Barry's isolation."

I think this is where PDL really earns its spot in The Canon, as the highly-rare major studio film that is something like the cinematic equivalent of a tone poem. You can just sit back and enjoy the aesthetics of PTA's work, getting the full feel of Barry and Lena's world from confusing and startling start to satisfying end, but it also tells you a story, one that is well worth hearing. There deserves to be films in The Canon that embrace style in a way that is informed by story, rises above it and yet doesn't neglect it.

#9 Bobby Jones

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Posted 19 March 2018 - 03:52 PM

I adore this movie and think it absolutely has a place in the Canon. This is PTA's romantic comedy version of Inglorious Basterds, pitting the scrappy underdog of love against the fascist beast that is mental illness. In reality, a man with as many deeply seeded issues as Barry Egan would likely never conquer life in the way that Barry does in this film, just as in reality a group of scrawny Jewish Americans could never topple the Third Reich. However, just as Tarantino allows his Jewish protagonists to succeed in their unlikely triumph, Punch-Drunk acts as Love's cathartic revenge fantasy on Anxiety and Depression. To counter Amy's point that certain developments in the romance between Barry and Lena are unrealistic, I would say that while this may be the case on surface level. However, debating the plausibility of their relationship is counterintuitive to fully experiencing the film as I believe it was intended. Barry is a wildly dysfunctional man who has been dropped into a fairy tale romantic comedy: a world where magical harmoniums appear in a cacophony of traffic and anxiety and where two people with complex, screwed up lives can fall in love with one another with complete abandon. The logistics of whether the two are good for one another, or even if they'll ever be in the same physical location for more than a few days at a time, don't matter in the least. Barry and Lena are punch-drunk in love, so much so that they value that love over all else, no matter what logic may say is the smart thing to do.

Beyond the viscerally emotional facets of the movie that make it such an enjoyable watch for me, what keeps me coming back to this film over and over again is the vast abundance of minute details that contribute so much to the various characters in the most subtle ways. One of my favorite examples of this, something that I didn't notice until my third watch, occurs on the second day of work portrayed in the film. Luis Guzman's character, Lance, after asking Barry the day before why he was wearing a suit, comes in to work also dressed in a suit. Barry never acknowledges this gesture, and Lance abandons the suit for the remainder of the film. This is such a minor, minor, detail and the film can certainly still be appreciated without noticing those little things, but it is the subtleties that PTA includes, throughout all of his work but especially in Punch-Drunk Love, that really demonstrate, for me, the vast scope of his vision and the complex understanding he has of every one of his characters.

Finally, on the subject of subtlety, I love the portrayal of Barry Egan by Adam Sandler. The way in which he brings the character to life through understated, completely natural movements - side striding backwards out of a room, twitching in a rhythmic, obsessive way when he's on the phone, being extremely conscious of every movement he makes - allows the audience to recognize that Barry is not a well man without directly stating it or including an over-expository scene of Barry in counseling or taking medication. Barry's OCD, anxiety, and depression are all there, and the audience is made extremely aware of them through some excellent anxiety-inducing filmmaking, but they are not the focus of the film, love is, and in the end it is love that wins. We know that these issues we've seen in Barry throughout the film aren't gone with the story's conclusion. He will likely never escape these mental conditions which plague him, but the ending is happy because now he's not alone. He has love, and in a rom-com, which Punch-Drunk certainly is, that's all that matters. Barry has a love in his life, and it makes him stronger than anything you can imagine. That's that.

Oh shit, I almost forgot. I can't talk about my love for this movie without mentioning the phone call scene between Barry and Mattress Man Dean Trumbell. It is one of the absolute funniest scenes I have ever seen and I am incapable of watching it without laughing hysterically. Now that's that.

#10 FictionIsntReal

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Posted 19 March 2018 - 04:57 PM

I agreed with basically all of Amy's criticisms: Lena is a very thinly written character and we're given no reason why this person who's worldly enough to have any relationship experience would put up with this guy who repeatedly flips out and then implausibly lies about it. The film really seems to assume we're going to be rooting for Barry Egan, and without that the film just fell flat for me, regardless of the coloration or music. I watched Punch-Drunk Love in the morning then caught a screening of Phantom Thread that night, and the way the latter worked just threw into relief how the former didn't. We don't need to find Reynolds Woodcock sympathetic, we can laugh at the importance he places on things that seem trivial to others. Alma is also a real character, and the interaction between the two of them is complicated. I don't even entirely understand it, but it was a lot more interesting than Barry & Lena.

#11 Johnny Pomatto

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Posted 19 March 2018 - 08:08 PM

Having been obsessed with the earlier works of Paul Thomas Anderson, (MAGNOLIA, BOOGIE NIGHTS, and at least the first half of HARD EIGHT) in the late 90's, I was primed and ready for the release of PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE in 2002. I saw it on opening night... twice. I was obsessed. I think I saw it no fewer than 5 times during its initial release. It was more than just the novelty of Adam Sandler being in an artistic and somewhat prestigious film. I was also enamored with Anderson's style, music, and voice. I loved this movie... and then I didn't watch it again for several years.

With the success of PHANTOM THREAD (which I absolutely love, and quite more than THERE WILL BE BLOOD), Metrograph in New York did a retrospective of Paul Thomas Anderson and played all of his films. Having not seen most of them on the big screen since their initial release, I attended every single one. My wife had never seen either MAGNOLIA or PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE so I dragged her to both. After watching MAGNOLIA, which I unequivocally love, in spite of its troubles (I wrote my senior english thesis in high school on the film to the tune of 56 pages), and yet I still tried to contextualize the film to my wife after I subjected her to it. "There's so much beauty in it. Sure, it's kind of a mess and has perhaps a bit too much going on, but even if you could make a perfect film out of it by trimming an hour or so, to me, it's still a near masterpiece." She patiently accepted my assessment. A few nights later I brought her back for PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE, which perhaps I had oversold a bit. As the credits began to roll, she turned to me and said, "Wait a minute. You think that it's MAGNOLIA that's 'kind of a mess?????'" PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE had not worked its magic on her, and sadly, having watched it for the first time again in over a decade, it no longer worked much magic on me. I had real trouble remembering what it was about the film that had so enchanted me upon its first release.

The phrase "style over substance" might have been invented specifically for this movie. I love the technical wonder that Anderson layers into this movie. It's beautiful to watch and often even more beautiful to listen to. But whatever I connected to initially, (I too was a romantic at heart who struggled with occasional depression), really wasn't there for me anymore. I even had trouble following the overly simplistic plot of this film that I had seen many, many times before. I kept waiting for things to happen that I remembered in my head that didn't actually exist in the movie. As I tried to defend this film to my wife on the long walk home, I found myself faltering and failing.

But perhaps this is ok. Despite some high peaks and low valleys, I still regard Paul Thomas Anderson as one of my favorite filmmakers. I think his technical prowess is nearly unmatched in today's digital age. And perhaps a director like him needs the occasional PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE, INHERENT VICE, and second half of HARD EIGHT to keep himself challenged, interesting, and humbled. I might be bored with him by now if I regarded every film he made as a near masterpiece. But he has these interesting workshops in between his greater works. If MAGNOLIA has too much plot going on, maybe he made PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE to see if he could tell a story with very little actual story, relying primarily on mood and tone. I don't know if it totally works, but I love him for trying. And how can I not love (at least a little) a film that can bring out so many different reactions and emotions. I've seen this film many times now, and I will probably see it a few more. It's not my favorite work of Anderson's, but I'm glad that he made it. It's a piece of the puzzle contextualizing his larger career. I would have insisted this be canonized back in 2002, but I can no longer be so enthusiastic. The only way I could allow PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE to be entered into The Canon was if we let in every Paul Thomas Anderson film into The Canon. There's an argument to be made for that, but for now, I'm going to have to offer a respectable NO. There are things and moments within this film that I still genuinely love, but I also think that I have somewhat outgrown the film, and I believe Anderson has as well. Sometimes a failure from a great director can be a more important film than one of their successes, but with regards to PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE and THERE WILL BE BLOOD, I just don't think that's the case. Now bring on a versus episode between BOOGIE NIGHTS and MAGNOLIA so we can secure one of them the slot that they deserve! I may be biased, but I think I can back them up.

#12 AmandaNumbraOne

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Posted 19 March 2018 - 10:32 PM

It seems other voters can describe more clearly why this belongs in The Canon. I won’t touch on depression or the score, which Emily and Amy nailed.

For me, it is my absolute favorite PTA film, and one I think defines him as a master filmmaker. The writing and direction are so, so beautiful. When Emily described the scene of Barry in the phone booth trying to reach Lena, I almost broke down. Even in memory, it is so tragic and hopeful and triggers such an emotional response.

I understand why Amy does not necessarily buy Lena’s attitude towards Barry, but I think it’s as easy as she’s just intensely lonely and hey, maybe Adam Sandler’s picture wouldn’t do anything for me or you Amy, but diff strokes! With all of my relationships where I fell hard in the first few weeks or months, I completely understand the notion of wanting to be everywhere your lover is...including flying out to Hawaii only after knowing that person for a short time.

I loved the discussion of how Emily Watson is lit and shot when she shows up to the warehouse...how we don’t immediately see her face almost as if she’s a fantasy come to life. I genuinely loled at Amy’s comment of how her butt looks like a schoolteacher’s. To quote Robert Forrester as Max Cherry in Jackie Brown, “Ain’t nothin wrong with that!”

Amy and Emily didn’t really talk about the hilarious performances of Philip Seymour Hoffman and the immensely underrated Luis Guzman. Guzman has one of my favorite pratfalls in film history when he flips out of his rolling chair. Unfortunately, I cannot find a clip of it anywhere!

In any case, great discussion. Loved your friendship chemistry and look forward to following Emily’s criticism further.

#13 Official Super Bowl®

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Posted 19 March 2018 - 10:54 PM

View PostJohnny Pomatto, on 19 March 2018 - 08:08 PM, said:

The only way I could allow PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE to be entered into The Canon was if we let in every Paul Thomas Anderson film into The Canon.


Maybe it's time to start putting a director's entire oeuvre up to a "yea or nay" vote. (Some of the homework assignments would be pretty intense, though--imagine watching every Robert Altman movie in a single week.)

#14 ActualButt

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Posted 20 March 2018 - 06:13 AM

I want multiple PTA films in The Canon, but I suspect there isn't room for more than one, and I think that one should be Boogie Nights. While Punch Drunk Love is a great film, it's not the best at any of what it shoots for outside of its visual or audio style. But films are more than that. If there's a Canon for directors, Anderson certainly belongs, but as far as The Canon of films themselves go, I vote a very soft and conflicted no. Also, after hearing the discussion on the episode, I realized that Ben Stiller would be preferable to me in almost ever "serious" Adam Sandler role.

PS. Give Reign Over Me a chance. It's more than just "that Adam Sandler 9/11 movie".

#15 Lawbster31

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Posted 20 March 2018 - 08:45 AM

For the people who keep mentioning letting Boogie Nights in the Canon: there was already a Boogie Nights vs There Will Be Blood episode and Boogie Nights lost. So unless they start doing the Re-versus episodes again (fingers crossed), that's not an option.

As for Punch-Drunk Love, it is my favorite PTA film but I had to rewatch it first to confirm. It might be his most Lynchian film -- though without the abject terror -- with its extreme focus on sound, mood, and emotional response, rather than a tight and logical plot. But I love this movie. The music is incredible and propulsive and stressful, and I can relate to both Barry and his situation in the movie to a pretty upsetting degree that I'd really rather not go into. Add to all of that how immensely rewatchable this is (it helps that it's short), and how unique it is for a romantic comedy. It feels similar to my favorite Coens movie, A Serious Man, where you can watch it (maybe it's just me) as a hilarious comedy or as a pretty depressing character study and get something different out of it every time. A versus episode of those two movies would have been absolutely brutal for me. As it is though, this is a very solid YES vote from me.

#16 wedestroymyths

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Posted 20 March 2018 - 09:43 AM

Long time listener, maybe first time poster? I might have posted years ago. But PDL is one of my all time favorites, so I had to come post. Sorry if this seems a bit rushed--I'm on my lunch break and know if I don't finish now, I'll probably forget to come back.

So, many folks have touched on the film's emotional beats and how effective they are, and that's a huge part of this film's success for me. But over the year's the film has come to read as an incisive bit of film criticism. The absurdity of Barry's man-child behavior, the underdevelopment of Lena, the ease with which Lena falls in love with Barry--these feel like a critique of both the romantic comedy genre and of Sandler's comedic persona. In a way, these parts of the film, to me, feel like an examination of what would happen if a "real world" version of Sandler's early comedic characters (who are basically heightened representations of toxic and immature male behavior) fell in love. All of the beats of a traditional rom-com are present, but they function, in part, as a critique of the genre. Lena falling for Barry? Of course it's absurd. He's violent and emotionally unstable, a visceral heightened portrayal of the kinds of broken men who rom-coms typically have "saved" by leading ladies. But here, we're supposed to be aware of that absurdity, and Anderson seems to do that very intentionally.

At the same time, the film also works as a love letter to Hollywood's romantic tendencies. The way we linger on the shot of Barry and Lena's kiss in Hawaii, the odd uses of light and color, the clear, blunt language about love ("I have a love in my life"), all point to a more sincere celebration of portrayal's of idealized romantic love, ideals which can be harmful for actual real people, but can also be very powerful and transformative.

It's the film's ability to both critique and celebrate the genre, to exist as a nuanced, complex examination of the genre that makes this film resonate so deeply with me. It makes me feel, and it makes me examine the things that are making me feel. One of my faves.

#17 HoldenMartinson

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Posted 20 March 2018 - 10:00 PM

100% yes. This is a film whose loveliness and whimsy totally work on me, probably because these pieces are interwoven with a ton of adoration and messy emotional honesty. That Paul Thomas Anderson can do this and then follow it up with something as severe and mannered as There Will Be Blood demonstrates a lot of what I love about this film, and what I love about PTA.


The element that speaks most to me, however, is the one that Amy jives with the least: Barry as a character. I mean, maybe it's just really personal, but I definitely recognize much of myself in Barry. Like Barry, I don't always know how to express myself very well. I've definitely had moments like that great, great oner of him on the phone with Georgia, where he can't even feel comfortable pretending he's literally anyone else. There's this sense of smallness to Barry--even though he's played by Adam Sandler, who is tall and broad--that feels achingly honest. Certainly, I understand, and maybe even agree with the preference of Ben Stiller's conventional asshole in sheep's clothing over the misunderstood teddy bear of Adam Sandler, but as far as Punch-Drunk Love is concerned, Sandler works. Because it's a film about wanting to be loved, and knowing you have something to offer that no one else sees, until you find someone that finally just gets you. Barry is essentially good, and even enough for Lena, even if he's not perfect or all that well-adjusted.

#18 FictionIsntReal

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Posted 21 March 2018 - 05:24 PM

View PostDale Cooper Black, on 19 March 2018 - 10:54 PM, said:


Maybe it's time to start putting a director's entire oeuvre up to a "yea or nay" vote. (Some of the homework assignments would be pretty intense, though--imagine watching every Robert Altman movie in a single week.)


Very easy if the director is Charles Laughton!

View Postwedestroymyths, on 20 March 2018 - 09:43 AM, said:

over the year's the film has come to read as an incisive bit of film criticism. The absurdity of Barry's man-child behavior, the underdevelopment of Lena, the ease with which Lena falls in love with Barry--these feel like a critique of both the romantic comedy genre and of Sandler's comedic persona. In a way, these parts of the film, to me, feel like an examination of what would happen if a "real world" version of Sandler's early comedic characters (who are basically heightened representations of toxic and immature male behavior) fell in love. All of the beats of a traditional rom-com are present, but they function, in part, as a critique of the genre. Lena falling for Barry? Of course it's absurd. He's violent and emotionally unstable, a visceral heightened portrayal of the kinds of broken men who rom-coms typically have "saved" by leading ladies. But here, we're supposed to be aware of that absurdity, and Anderson seems to do that very intentionally.

I don't see how the film can have its cake and eat it too (as you indicate later on when discussing its sincerity). But I'm also a person who thinks Starship Troopers really is a bad movie (yes, I know Verhoeven had his tongue in his cheek) and intentionally casting bad actors to play thin characters just means intentionally making a bad film. Getting back to PDL, Emily Watson isn't a bad actress, but she is playing a thin character who only briefly gets interesting when she talks about chewing Barry's face.

#19 bleary

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Posted 24 March 2018 - 03:46 PM

Last night I was at a bar grabbing a drink before seeing a film, and I overheard a few women having a post-workweek happy hour chatting about relationships, and one woman said something to the effect of, "I'm not interested in looking for guys at the gym, since I want to meet someone with a certain amount of weirdness, and guys at the gym don't seem to have that weirdness to them." Her friend instantly replied, "Uh, there are plenty of weirdos at the gym."

I thought about this when listening to Emily's arguments in favor of Punch-Drunk Love and realized that the part of the movie that resonates with me is that it's about weirdos finding each other and finding that their brands of weirdness are compatible. Moreover, most films about weirdos finding each other tend to be either super twee (like Me and You and Everyone We Know) or played for comedic effect (off the top of my head, something like Eagle vs Shark) or are more one-sided in the weirdness, such as every Manic Pixie Dream Girl/Guy movie. However, Punch-Drunk Love gives the emotional reality of that situation. Barry suspects he's weird in some way, although he's not sure because he doesn't know how everyone else is, which is such a real feeling to me. He tries to hide it by attempting to act like he thinks other people act, with varying degrees of success (and again, it's painful how much I relate to this. Amy mentioned the shot of him drinking/pretending to drink the coffee, when it looks like there's nothing in it, and it's perhaps unclear if this is an example of the typical filmmaking mistake to sub in an empty prop to represent a full one, or if the coffee is meant to be empty in the story. I absolutely assumed the coffee is meant to be empty in the story, and he's either pretending to drink it to look normal or he's reflexively making that motion as a nervous tick. The latter is something that I do on a regular basis in anxiety-filled situations, and then get more anxious about whether I seemed weird for trying to drink out of an empty cup for the fifth time in two minutes.) All in all, I guess what I'm getting at is that this episode of the podcast had something more absurd than anything in the film: Amy suggesting that Barry is an unrealistic character.

And then what makes the film work is that everyone in the film is weird, and is hiding their weirdness or posturing in some way or pretending to be something they're not. They're just doing a better job of hiding it than Barry is (or perhaps, the film is meant to be from Barry's point of view, so it's just that Barry magnifies his own weirdness and minimizes that of others). So the answer to the question: why would Lena be interested in someone like Barry? Because she's a weirdo too! As roflscooter pointed out above, Lena is a person who saw a picture of a guy and decided to drive to where he works and manufacture a reason to meet him, and then follows him around a grocery store. How is this a "seemingly normal" person? But she's able to fake it well enough that not only does Barry think she's normal, but a large portion of the commenters in this thread thinks she's normal too. And maybe she is less weird than he is, but that could be part of the appeal; he's weird enough that he can appreciate her weirdness, while still making her feel relatively normal by comparison. And to those who wish the film gave her a more meaty character, the film is from Barry's point of view. The film sees every character how Barry sees them, and can't show us any more than that. So while I agree that I'd love to see the version of this film from her point of view, that fleshes out her character and shows how she sees herself and how she sees Barry, that's not what this movie is, and I for one don't fault it for not being that movie.

I could nitpick this movie too. While Adam Sandler is fine, I don't think he's great. As much as I love the character, I'm left thinking how much better he'd be if played by John C. Reilly or William H. Macy or Ben Stiller, or even Philip Seymour Hoffman, who portrayed a similar, yet markedly different character in Happiness. (By the way, an American Cinematheque double-feature of Boogie Nights and Happiness in March 2014 to honor PSH might be my favorite double-feature I ever attended.) But I think Adam Sandler is a little overmatched by the complexity of this role. I could also nitpick some story points too involving his character. For instance, if he's fastidious enough to call the company to make sure he understands the frequent flyer mile promotion, he would have also noted that there's going to be a processing period of six to eight weeks. I also don't know if I buy that this character falls prey to a phone-sex-extortion scheme. But then again, in Punch-Drunk Love, the story is the part of the movie where you suspend your disbelief. The emotions are what's real.

Finally, a lot of posters are struggling about whether this deserves to be in the Canon considering the rest of PTA's filmography. Admittedly, I also feel like if Boogie Nights is not in the Canon, than this shouldn't be either. However, as mentioned in the episode, PTA is like the Coens, in that their films are so largely different that one could easily argue that 80% of their work deserves Canonization. Is Punch-Drunk Love an example of "lesser" PTA? Is there such a thing as "lesser" PTA? Before this rewatch, I would have said this is my 2nd least favorite of his films that I've seen, ahead of Inherent Vice. After this rewatch...I still might say that, although it's now pretty neck and neck with The Master in my estimation. Would I Canonize Boogie Nights and Magnolia before Punch-Drunk Love? Probably. But Punch-Drunk Love is still an outstanding film, and instead of worrying those other films, I'll just vote yes on the excellent film that's on the table.

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Posted 25 March 2018 - 03:47 AM

Post re-watch, this is a definite "yes" for me. Another Canonizer (is that a thing?) used the term "tone poem," and that pretty much sums it up. The clunky parts are still there, exactly as I remembered, but the beautiful parts are so absurdly, mysteriously beautiful that the clunky parts don't even matter. After the re-watch, I'm inclined to disagree that this movie would have been better with a different lead actor. It is precisely because of Sandler that this film A) exists and B ) works. For whatever reason, PTA decided to mine Happy Gilmore in search of emotional truths. I wouldn't say he hit paydirt, exactly, but the nuggets he found are certainly enough to sustain this movie.

I mentioned Robert Altman elsewhere in this thread entirely at random, but there are some parallels between Altman and PTA that I only noticed after re-watching Punch Drunk Love (and hearing that song from Popeye again). Both directors specialize in making films that are wildly divergent from each other, and yet each of their films bears the unmistakable signature of its director. To push the comparison a little further, I would say that Punch Drunk Love is a cousin to Altman's The Long Goodbye. I don't think Elliott Gould was cast "against type" in The Long Goodbye so much as his "type" was transplanted into an entirely new context, thus adding depth to both the character and his new surroundings. I think the same is true of Sandler in Punch Drunk Love.

Anyway, thanks to Amy & Emily & everyone on this board for a fascinating conversation.