Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

(In theaters, October 2002) I really wanted to like this film, but the problem is that film doesn’t want to be liked. It reminded me (slightly) of The Shining, in which an intellectual director takes on a “popular” genre without having much respect or affection for the said genre. The result may be a brilliant deconstruction of romantic comedy clichés, but if you’re looking for a good time, you might as well go back to the usual popular stuff. It’s easy to be impressed by elements of this film, mind you: Adam Sandler’s character is a direct reference to his usual screen personae, a dysfunctional moron whose childlike rages here do not go unpunished. As an actor, it’s definitely a step up for him… but it doesn’t make him likeable. P.T.Anderson’s direction is sparse and relatively breezy, but it’s also deliberately sloppy and unpolished in an attempt to lend it some art-house credibility. A few moments are genuinely amusing (I’m thinking here of the “backlit kiss”, deliberately marred by what looks like a parade of visual distractions), but most of the film plays like nails on chalkboard, an impression heightened by the deliberately intrusive soundtrack that does an effective job at putting us in the mind of a loathsome protagonist. I wasn’t impressed by any of the “romantic” elements, which seem glossed over for no good reason at all; in his rush to deconstruct, Anderson has forgotten to construct. Once again, even though Punch-Drunk Love is at least an hour shorter than Magnolia, it still feels loose and self-indulgent. But then again, self-indulgence has been a hallmark of Anderson’s work since the very beginnings. What’s not present here, though, is a reason to like this film, not simply admire it.

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