BD - Image A Sound A+ Extras B+
DVD - Image A+ Sound A+ Extras C+
starring Adam Sandler, Emily Watson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Luis Guzmán
written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
by Walter Chaw Indicated by spacious compositions and a bracing unpredictability, Paul Thomas Anderson's romantic comedy Punch-Drunk Love is a marriage, if you will, between Claire Denis's audacious Trouble Every Day and Steven Shainberg's sadomasochism fairytale Secretary. Here's a trio of films that announce 2002 as a year perhaps best defined by its aggressively non-traditional, hopelessly romantic love stories (toss Todd Haynes's Far From Heaven, Cronenberg's Spider, and Roger Avary's The Rules of Attraction into that mix).
A surprisingly focused (coming in at just under 90 minutes without credits) and mature work from a wunderkind director who until now unfailingly diluted his occasional strokes of brilliance with acres of blather, Punch-Drunk Love features a shockingly adept turn by Adam Sandler, a man who has built a dung empire from speech impediments and psychopathic outbursts. Punch-Drunk Love tethers Sandler's propensity towards mining lisps, race, and so on for humour as it gives careful rein to the sudden violent outbursts that Sandler, heretofore, had always used to comic effect. The resulting performance is something of a marvel in that it is everything we expect from Sandler, now guided in the right direction. Not only is the picture the successful rendering of One Hour Photo, it's one of those things one never suspected could exist: the perfect Adam Sandler vehicle that doesn't, consequently, suck.
Sandler is Barry Egan, a man fond of blue suits and possessed of a severe personality disorder who owns and operates, it would seem, his own decorative toilet-plunger business out of a warehouse. When he meets Lena (Emily Watson) one day as she's dropping off her car at the mechanic's next door, Barry, in his painful, clearly dangerous way, falls in love. Subtext left as subtext, the story proper is the classic quirky pursuit intrigue involving a stalker personality and an impossibly angelic pursued. Rather than wallow in the shallow end of formula, however, the picture destabilizes the protagonists' respective roles, making Barry unbalanced rather than rakishly dogged and the inamorata, Lena, aware of her peril and excited by it.
What Anderson manages in Punch-Drunk Love is to pace the familiar motions of the unlikely romance between rogue and prize to a broken calliope. The picture is discordant and calculatedly jarring, projecting Barry's ruined mind's confusion and fear, building a tension and sense of danger that is delicious in its nerviness. Anderson regular Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Dean the Mattress Man, a mattress salesman moonlighting as the operator of a phone-sex scam operator who provides the film the bulk of its emotional and physical conflict.
Yet Punch-Drunk Love is more than an exercise in genre explosion: it is an exploration of the actual euphoria of new love, perhaps even first love, in all its uncontainable passion and rash acts. Anderson presents a pudding-label contest in a way as interesting and romantic as canned peaches in a Wong Kar-Wai film and makes of an impromptu Sandler soft-shoe in a grocery aisle something as pure and sentimental as Gene Kelly splashing through pools of water. The picture's soundtrack is now raucous, now soaring romantic overture while the look of the piece falls in the midst of Polanski's penchant for slow push-ins and Kubrick's affection for the sterility of modernity, though it's warm.
Punch-Drunk Love enthrals for its craftsmanship and its conviction, for its fabulous instinct for magical realism (a harmonium appearing in the middle of a road, a telephone booth light coming on at the moment of joyous connection), and for a pair of performances that almost speak more for Anderson's talent for casting than the actors themselves. Punch-Drunk Love is a work of Beckett-ian poetry, a carefully structured scream of consciousness that is tortured and unsettling--but unquestionably alive. Originally published: October 25, 2002.
by Bill Chambers I adore Paul Thomas Anderson but he can be idiosyncratic to the point of snobbery. Case in point: his handpicked supplementary material for the 2-disc Special Edition DVD of Punch-Drunk Love--whose 12-minute outtakes reel, for instance, has the pretense of a short film to go with its pretentious title ("Blossoms and Blood"), yet succeeds neither as an experimental (because your mind is filling in the narrative gaps) nor as an illumination of the trim bin (because the footage isn't contextualized for us; I have my suspicions, given the profusion of aimless camera work, that much of it belongs to the aborted two weeks of shooting before the production shut down to reorganize). In any event, it seems tailored for an audience of one (Anderson).
Consider also that the only subtitle option offered for these extra features is Korean; Anderson's obsession with fake commercials, which resurfaces in the DVD's 50-second "Mattress Man" spot; and the dozen tiresome Jeremy Blake "Scopitone" interstitials. (They join a 3-minute montage of Blake's art set to Anne Kerr's frothy "I've Gone Native Now.") On the other hand, the two included deleted scenes are revelatory, the first ("The Sisters Call") running seven minutes and concluding with a dark passage in which Barry has a borderline nervous breakdown triggered by the sight of a little boy, the second an alternate version of the ATM mugging that uses the same dialogue to achieve a completely different, if inferior, effect. An Easter egg "shuffle" function plus Punch-Drunk Love's standard, Scopitone-themed, and French theatrical trailers round out the second platter.
Disc One contains Punch-Drunk Love alone configured to Superbit specs (widescreen-only, Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks). Anderson advises us in the insert booklet (comprised mostly of, yep, Blake's pieces) to "make sure [our] blacks are black," to "let...whites bloom a bit," and to "listen to (sic) loud!" With those instructions firmly heeded, I found both the 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer and its DTS 5.1 audio (apparently ES-encoded though unlisted as such) to be gob-smacking; the influence of sound consultant Gary Rydstrom is in evidence from the surreal opening car accident, and Jon Brion's score oscillates from channel to channel with outlandish grace. Pictorially speaking, this is the most accurate small-screen rendering in recent memory--the film's colour and contrast look exactly as I remember from the cinema, while there's been no digital compensation for the soft-focus quality of DP Robert Elswit's images. The set comes packaged in a gatefold with an unusually wide slipcase. Originally published: June 14, 2003.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
by Bill Chambers Punch-Drunk Love makes a rather auspicious Blu-ray debut as part of the Criterion Collection in a 2.39:1, 1080p transfer supervised by writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson. Surprisingly, this presentation hasn't been touted as a 4K or even 2K scan, and more surprisingly still it comes from an interpositive, but it looks great--markedly superior to the Superbit DVD beyond the increased resolution, and an accurate representation of the theatrical experience to the best of my memory, with the exception of some purposeful overexposure that blows out in a digital manner. The movie's Mac Store whites gleam in high-definition, while the royal blue of Barry's suit--seemingly matched to the shade of anamorphic lens flares, which are prevalent--is bright and dimensional. There's a filmic elegance to the coolish image you just don't see anymore, and the crispness of the grain structure (itself barely noticeable against the film's dynamic contrasts, but present, at least) confirms that any softness of detail is photographic. An A/B comparison with the DVD reveals a hair more information on all four sides of the frame here, though the improved colour reproduction is far more readily apparent. The audio likewise receives a substantial upgrade: Although the DVD's DTS soundtrack was a ripe, robust pinnacle for the format, it simply lacks the complexity of this disc's 5.1 DTS-HD MA track, sourced from the 35mm magnetic master at 48kHz/24-bit. The sound design's seamless blend of music and effects is so much more layered, and the mix remains aggressively loud--and deliciously anxiety-inducing at the right (i.e., correct) volume--but no longer has a sharp edge to it.
From a technical standpoint, this release is worth upgrading from standard-def no ifs, ands, or buts. Many of the extras, however, are recycled from the DVD--the "Mattress Man" spot, the Scopitone interstitials and Jeremy Blake montage, the deleted scenes, the "Blossoms and Blood" featurette, and the three trailers (except for the deleted scenes, these all get an HD bump)--and the new material, although interesting in and of itself, leaves something to be desired for being largely peripheral to Anderson himself. "Jon Brion on Punch-Drunk Love" (27 mins., HD) is consequently the best of Criterion's in-house supplements, given that Brion's collaboration with Anderson was an intimate, involved one that made him witness to the entire production process. He begins at the beginning, as it were, with the story of the harmonium's prominent role in the film (yet not the score) and how Brion himself was the inspiration for the duct-taped bellows on Barry's instrument. The composer helped Anderson consecrate his vision for Punch-Drunk Love by idly calling it a musical where nobody ever breaks into song, and he wrote music prior to shooting that Anderson used to orient himself on set, often basing it on a percussive tempo Anderson himself bebopped into Brion's taperecorder. This is an engaging interview with an eccentric, who closes by dolloping praise on idols and peers alike, going so far as to call John Williams underrated. He doesn't elaborate on that, but I get it, I think. As an appendage to the piece, Criterion includes a 10-minute behind-the-scenes clip from the scoring sessions at Abbey Road in 2001, in upconverted SD.
"Jeremy Blake" (20 mins., HD) is a short documentary on the artist behind the movie's Scopitones, featuring a dialogue between Michael Connor, artistic director of Rhizome, and Lia Gangitano, founder/director of Participant Inc. They talk about Blake's pioneering digital art, which often obliquely if not directly referenced pop culture; one exhibition of his work was named after the eyeglass vendor in David Cronenberg's Videodrome, Spectacular Optical, and borrowed its ideas from the spatial dynamics in Cronenberg's early movies. Because he was on the vanguard of his medium, much of Blake's early stuff is archived on inferior formats and looks pretty primitive, but the glimpses we get of it are vital anyway. Punch-Drunk Love is regarded as a career highlight, since it drove Blake westward in closer proximity to his subject matter. What isn't discussed is that Blake walked into the drink in 2007, allegedly driven to suicide by harassment from Scientologists. His girlfriend, videogame designer Theresa Duncan, had killed herself days earlier. Granted, he's not a fascinating figure just because he died under creepy circumstances.
Anderson does appear, alongside Adam Sandler, Emily Watson (styled, oddly, just like her Punch-Drunk Love character), and Philip Seymour Hoffman, in two segments from Cannes 2002 (where Anderson won Best Director), the first a pretty pointless 7-minute roundtable with a French-language interviewer, the second the official press conference, where the abovementioned talent is joined by producer Joanne Sellar, who is sadly if perhaps predictably all but ignored along with Watson. Anderson is impish and evasive for the most part, but comes close to getting real when a question sparks an admission that he lost his way after Magnolia, followed by a contemplative silence. Sandler retreats into his baby-talking persona but relates a lovely childhood anecdote about feeling guilty for laughing at a Jerry Lewis movie that came on TV after his grandfather died. "That's what it's there for, to cheer you up," his uncle reassured him. He also teases an upcoming project to a Chinese reporter that thankfully never came to fruition, in which Zhang Ziyi would've played his mail-order bride. For what it's worth, it's heartbreaking to hear Hoffman reflect on his partnership with Anderson and say he's sure they'll keep working together until one of them isn't around anymore. Rounding out the platter is a "Today Show" interview with "The Pudding Guy" David Phillips, whose acquisition of a million frequent-flier miles from $3000 worth of pudding was the impetus for Punch-Drunk Love. Katie Couric tries very hard to turn him into good TV, but Phillips is a trivia answer, not a personality.
Me and You and Everyone We Know helmer Miranda July writes the liner essay, an impenetrably facetious personal reminiscence of Anderson's film. The foldout insert, incidentally, is an eyesore, printing July's text in a chunky black font against a searing fuchsia backdrop and needlessly dividing it into columns, the result of which is that one page of the booklet is left blank!