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PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE (article first published : 2003-03-11)

Here it is, folks - an Adam Sandler movie which the discerning film fan simply has to add to the must-see list. And, yep, you heard me right! Never has this most irritating and juvenile of American comics been so well harnessed, so well directed, such a joy to behold.

The film winning him acclaim is Punch-Drunk Love, an offbeat romantic comedy so audacious, so wildly inventive and so very weird at times it will confuse some and surely greatly disappoint the regular Sandler fan. But it opens up a whole new cinematic world to anyone prepared to take the ride.

The stamp of quality comes from writer-director PT Anderson, the wunderkind behind the oddball successes Boogie Nights and Magnolia, who has created a fiercely original work which won him the award for direction at last year's Cannes Film Festival.

His film opens puzzlingly. There's a car crash which has little relevance to the unfolding story and which results in a harmonium, for some inexplicable reason, being dumped on a pavement. Both incidents are observed by bland bachelor Barry Egan (Sandler), a nervous businessman who runs his own company, specialising in toiletry novelties.

Sandler's Barry is a man of mood swings and awkward charm. He's an individual tightly wound-up to the point of exploding by stress, an inferiority complex, social ineptitude, yearning for love and frustration with seven of the most painful sisters one could imagine.

Through a series of quirks of fate, Barry suddenly finds his life changing, his story encompassing incidents involving blackmail arising from a phone sex racket; the purchase of piles of puddings to qualify for air travel coupons; a second car crash and a trip to Hawaii.

Barry also finds love and a new voice - with the gentle and lonely Lena (Emily Watson), who works with one of his sisters and has long been trying to meet him.

By turns lyrical, tender and disturbing, Punch-Drunk Love is a movie that constantly surprises, its stylistic flourishes including audacious linkings of scenes with bright colour washes, a frenetically percussive score incorporating bongos, bubble sounds and squawks, and extended and effective use of the Shelly Duvall song He Needs Me from the Popeye soundtrack.

Some might find it all pretentious and silly. It's certainly not going to appeal to everyone. But if, like me, you like the unusual you could find it wildly colourful, delightfully unpredictable and a constant enchantment. My rating: 9/10. - Billy Suter




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