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Review Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

By Paul Thomas Anderson | USA
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“I don’t know if there is anything wrong because I don’t know how other people are.” So said Barry, a struggling small time business owner who seems to be lost alone amidst all the noises in his daily life. Like the others, Barry happens to be yet another protagonist in Paul Thomas Anderson’s continuous search of meaning and purpose. But here the chameleon director gave another angle on the eternal philosophical question he seems to be obsessed with, a much simpler one than that in “Magnolia” and certainly more innocent than “Boogie Night”.
But first let’s go back to Barry. We first meet Barry in the very opening shot of the movie, hunched back in his office table in the corner of an empty warehouse. The image immediately gave us the impression we needed of his character: he is alone and even more unfortunate, he doesn’t know why or what to do about it. This is what makes Barry not your typical PTA protagonist; from the start Barry admits his defeat. He is not a character who represents an ambition but rather confusion that arises in the absence of the omnipotent longing of purpose. For the same reason, Barry also became PTA’s most endearing protagonist yet, for he reperesents the same unsatisfaction and powerlessness we felt. And as the film progresses each of Barry’s small triumphs became a journey I personally find to be so profound and its end destination to be a touching victory against the cynicism of our world.
A lot of the credits should certainly be given to the surprisingly brilliant Adam Sandler. Not to undermine him as an actor — I am fully aware of his dramatic chops prior to watching this (“The Meyerowitz Stories” for example is wonderful )— but Sandler really outdid himself in this one. No matter how much brilliance Anderson did brought to the crafting of the film, it really was Sandler who brought those emotions alive. Him and also not to forget Emily Watson were so genuine onscreen, it’s impossible not to root for them as a human with a heart. There’s also an unhinged Philip Seymour Hoffman worth praising but then again, he is never not worth praising is he?
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There isn’t much else to say about “Punch-Drunk Love” apart from all the theories and analysis that has spread over the years. Though it remains as perhaps Anderson’s smallest venture yet, it is undoubtedly one his most profound. Rich with metaphorical imagery, moments of blissful fantasy, and an emotional high that wraps it like a warm blanket. This is, like a lot of critics said, the cinematic equivalent of surviving a mental breakdown. “I have a love in my life. It makes me stronger than anything you can imagine.”
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