Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

A woman embraces a man from behind in a close-up of their faces as they stare toward the ground with a background of bright light.
The Criterion Collection cover art for the 2002 movie Punch-Drunk Love, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson.
About the movie
  • Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
  • Starring: Adam Sandler, Emily Watson
  • Yes or no?: No
  • Links: on Letterboxd, IMDb page
Other reviews:

I am having a really hard time with this movie.

I didn’t like it. I might come around on it over time, but that initial viewing and the ending somewhat made me cringe. The message felt like Barry was being rewarded with the girl he really wants just because he needs it. But he’s violent! He thrashed the bathroom in the restaurant with her out at the table waiting! He’s bad and need desperately to get himself some help!

The movie’s seeming desire to apologize for Barry is the only reason I didn’t like it. Had the story gone a slightly different way, I might feel a lot different about this. The thing is, Barry is a very sympathetic character. He is treated like absolute shit by his sisters, he gets betrayed by his brother in law whom he begs to keep their conversation confidential. Even Lena’s friend from work who also happens to be Barry’s sister airs all his issues with Lena. It’s brutal for Barry.

Lena I can’t figure out. Why is she with this guy? Because he looked good in a picture she saw on an office desk? Every time they meet he does something that should be a full red flag, but Lena hangs around and still continues to be Barry’s person. Like, normal interactions between the two are almost never shown. Why is she there?

The performances in the movie along with the story of who Barry is make the movie very good. I can’t argue that it’s an incredibly well done movie, with Adam Sandler living up to the hype he garnered when this thing was released. It’s really good. I felt completely connected to Barry through the treatment he receives from his family. It’s just abuse upon abuse. Where I felt it, but I began to lose Barry was with the breaking of the windows. Then the bathroom. And so on.

With my biggest issue ultimately being that Barry is super troubled and seems nowhere near getting what he needs with regard to help, I am wondering whether Paul Thomas Anderson meant to have us think the ending was Barry getting help. Through Lena. Maybe.

I’ll watch this again—mostly because I’m now intrigued that I disliked this movie so much. I want very much to like Paul Thomas Anderson, but the two movies I have seen (The Will Be Blood) feature protagonists who do awful things yet remain somehow in the good graces of those they need around them. In There Will Be Blood, I am left feeling like the closure was correct. Daniel Plainview led a shitty life and died a shitty way. Barry Egan is trying hard, but needs help he is not getting, and instead turns to Lena as his lifeline. Yeah, I didn’t like it.

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March 27, 2024
Tags: paul thomas anderson | adam sandler
Categories: Reviews