Are You With Us?
By Ryan Mazie
December 16, 2010
There is always one movie that everybody loves. Your friends are yelling at you to drop what you are doing to go see the film immediately. Critics give it universal praise. Oscar predictors have the film at the top of their lists. So, after all of the kudos you decide to see the movie. Then you go, “What the hell are people talking about? This is the worst thing I have ever seen.” This is what happened to me when I saw Punch-Drunk Love. Everybody has these experiences; being the odd-man out when it comes to the mass consensus. But that’s why movies are so great – they are subjective. I rated this film three out of ten stars on IMDb and I am a very proud member of those 1.9% of voters.
Punch-Drunk Love was a film that always interested me, but slipped by. While the trailer looked odd, being a fan of visionary director Paul Thomas Anderson and funnyman Adam Sandler, I was enticed. After Sandler gave a moving performance in Reign Over Me, stripped of laughter, I was excited to watch him in drama mode again.
However, I found his performance to be remarkably like one in his mindless, fun comedies, acting like a man-child, but this time instead of laughing at him I felt depressingly sorry for him.
When the movie was over I had trouble piecing together what the film was about since nothing really happened but a series of unrelated events. Reflecting on the plot for the next few days I realized that there is a plot, but the problem is that little to nothing progressive happens. This is why I really disliked Punch-Drunk Love. The only thing I ask from a movie is for it to have a progression by the end whether seeable or emotional. To me, this movie belongs in the realm of Theatre of the Absurd. The settings are odd, the characters are undefined, little is explained, and there is no definable beginning or end.
Punch-Drunk Love’s plotlines all begin on one fateful day as Barry Egan, a small-business owner who makes elaborate toilet plungers, witnesses a car crash and a mysterious drop-off of a very small organ/piano-hybrid. What does this have to do with anything? Beats me. But later that day, Barry meets a woman, Lena (Emily Watson), who has an unexplained attraction to him and happens to be friends with one of Barry’s seven tormenting sisters (Mary Lynn Rajskub), whose birthday party it is that day. At the party, Barry, who has some sort of socially inert mental problem that is never specified, has a sudden anger attack, breaking the glass patio door and going home to call a phone sex line - an action that has severe consequences.
From these events, Barry, a constant screw-up according to his sisters, tries to sustain a relationship with Lena, ignore his sisters’ constant cruel comments, and take financial control back from the phone sex line, which turns out to be an extortion scheme.
While the plot sounds interesting, nothing is ever fully developed. This is partially due to Barry’s mannerisms. As an audience member, you want to see the character break out of his patterns and better himself. This is almost done when Barry confronts the extortionist ringleader (played hilariously by Philip Seymour Hoffman). When Barry arrives, he is ready to take his life back, but when it comes face-to-face he backs down and nothing happens. He resorts back to his sad sack, defenseless ways.
It is okay for the main character to be unlikeable, but there is a fine line between unlikable and intolerable. Barry Egan falls in the latter category for me. Barry is a disaster of a character socially. As he starts having a relationship with Lena, instead of watching the romance build, I was too concentrated on how Barry would mess it up.