Notes from a small island
A weblog by Jonathan Ali

Wednesday, March 19, 2003  

As the hours tick down to the American-led invasion of Iraq (as I type, forces are moving into the demiltarised zone) it seems almost insensitive to act as if nothing's happening, and try just to get on with things. Yet this is just what I did last evening, when I went to see the film Punch Drunk Love. And for ninety minutes or so I was able to cast aside all the dark oppressive swirling thoughts that have been clouding my mind over the past few days and focus on Paul Thomas Anderson's latest cinematic creation, slightly disappointing though it was.

Compared to Anderson's previous films, Boogie Nights and especially the sprawling, audacious epic Magnolia, PDL is a rather insignificant, not-fully realised affair; but a compelling one nonetheless. Barry (Adam Sandler) is the anti-hero, a lonely, depressed, violence-prone loser who sells themed toilet plungers. Enter Lena (Emily Watson) a friend of one of Barry's seven sisters, who sees a picture of Barry and is compelled to meet him. Why she (or any woman) would like Barry is anyone's guess, but she does, and their crazy romance takes off - with the help of chocolate pudding and a pump organ.

Part black comedy, part romantic satire, part trippy arthouse trompe l'oeil, PDL has some great ideas but never really gets going. Serious themes are touched on - mental illness, the irrational nature of love and desire - but never fully explored. Sandler doesn't so much play against type as play a modified - dare I say thoughtful? - version of his typical gross-out comedy character; Watson is great as always. The two share no chemistry whatsoever, which is intentional, but which doesn't square with the whole "redemptive power of love" thing that Anderson wants us to believe in, or the seemingly earnest happy ending. (I must admit, though, I had a broad smile on my face for the last five minutes or so.)

As I say, it's a flawed but compelling film: Anderson's style is unique (PDL won best director at Cannes last year), and I love his use of images and sound, which enhance the dark, nervy, disturbing atmosphere he's so skilled at creating. (Music, incidentally was by Jon Brion, a collaborator with one of my favourite bands, the Eels.)

Sort of like Magnolia-lite, then, Punch Drunk Love is almost, but not quite the real thing.

posted by Jonathan | 12:19 PM 0 comments


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