Punch-Drunk Love

by Greg Vellante

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday November 22, 2016

Punch-Drunk Love

Paul Thomas Anderson's "Punch-Drunk Love" is one of the greatest films ever made about the harmony between love, anger, fear, anxiety and the overwhelming nature of life that can encompass us all.

For some of us, struggling to balance this harmony is an infrequent affair. For others, like Barry Egan-a complicated and fascinating protagonist brought to life through the greatest performance of Adam Sandler's career-life is absolutely terrifying, and finding this harmony can be tricky sometimes. However, just like the harmonium that Barry finds in the street during the film's opening scene, it can indeed be found. It's just a matter of how, and sometimes that solution goes beyond the realm of explanation.

"Punch-Drunk Love" is a film that also goes beyond this realm. It's a curious headscratcher that perplexes some viewers and enchants others. Some immediately connect with Barry's short temper, his sporadic sadness, his seemingly irreversible loneliness. Others, like Barry's seven, emotionally abusive sisters in the film, look at this character as a freak show. Some fall instantly yet cautiously in love with him-like Lena (Emily Watson), the film's romantic answer to Barry's harmonious disarray.

The end result is a romantic comedy unlike any you've seen before, and its uniqueness makes it an appropriate candidate for its recent Criterion Collection release on Blu-ray and DVD. It's a singular piece for Anderson-an expressionistic, cinematic melody that combines the visual foundations of Jacques Tati and Hollywood technicolor musicals with an assaulting, provocative, momentum-fueled and brilliant score by Jon Brion.

The emotions vicariously experienced by the viewer range from devastating anxiety to quixotic bliss so strong it stings your eyes with tears. Its plot endlessly intrigues by breaking the conventions of romance, comedy, drama and storytelling as a whole with sex hotlines, pudding cups and maniacal mattress salesmen. Its visuals make you feel like you're experiencing certain colors for the very first time, as if they've never really been truly expressed to you or perceived in the ways in which Anderson and cinematographer Robert Elswit capture them.

The Criterion release thankfully dives into many of these aspects in its bonus features; the artwork of Jeremy Blake that punctuates the film and enhances its expressionistic qualities, the score of Jon Brion that is unlike anything ever produced before, the unique influences and inspirations behind the film, like an interview with the pudding pioneer who served as the stimulus for a crucial yet madcap plot element. It's a film as unique as they come, and Criterion has gathered a hefty helping of bonus features to hammer home this fact into a perfect harmony.

"Punch-Drunk Love"

Criterion Collection Blu-ray