Punch Drunk Love

dir. Anderson

Opens Fri Oct 25

Various Theaters

Paul Thomas Anderson has just secured his place as a movie-making badass. While his latest, Punch-Drunk Love, isn't as profound as Boogie Nights (or as long as Magnolia), it's visually stimulating and totally delightful.

Adam Sandler plays Barry Egan, a plumbing salesman with one too many high-maintenance sisters, intense loneliness, and a slight anger management problem. And he buys a lot of pudding. Lena Leonard (Emily Watson) is the English crumbcake that might be his one chance to placate his sisters, quell his sadness, and end his days of breaking glass windows. As a plot it isn't Tolstoy, but the film is alive with broad, vibrant blues, reds and purples, from Adam Sandler's suits and ties to the umbrellas at an outdoor restaurant, and Anderson's use of sound is clever and well placed.

This is not to say that the movie is without faults. The casting of Adam Sandler is unfortunate--but not for the reasons you would think. Sandler is quite endearing as Barry Egan, but his presence in the film seems to make audiences guffaw stupidly at every facial tick and exaggerated motion, even when they are not, nor intended to be, remotely funny. And this is a problem, because Punch-Drunk Love is merely lightly humorous, not pee-your-pants hysterical. There are even moments of real gravity that can be misread by people seeking an artsy Happy Gilmore.

Emily Watson turns the role of Lena Leonard from a simple love interest into a quiet yet beautiful woman who you could actually imagine falling for Adam Sandler--clearly, not the easiest of tasks. Philip Seymour Hoffman's on-screen antics seem limited to saying "fuck" as much as possible. One particular scene, a phone argument between Sandler and Hoffman, comes across as completely colorless, despite the plethora of colorful language being hurled back and forth.

Punch-Drunk Love is a short wisp of a film, which ultimately succeeds where it needs to: Adam Sandler proves he can act, Emily Watson redefines herself for American audiences, and Paul Thomas Anderson shows he can make a striking movie--a striking SHORT movie--without large penises or frogs falling from the sky.