After the dizzying profusion of Boogie Nights and Magnolia, in which subplots and characters sprouted like kudzu, it's strange to see a Paul Thomas Anderson film with one story, two major characters and a 90-minute running time. It's even stranger that it plays just like a Paul Thomas Anderson movie, complete with unexpected moments of coincidence, hurtling camera movements and an appreciation of the sun-blinded emptiness of the San Fernando Valley.
And it stars Adam Sandler. At the 1999 Toronto Film Critics Association dinner where we honoured Anderson for Magnolia, I asked him about the rumour that he wanted to make a film with Sandler. He said that what interested him was the actor's rage.
And that's exactly the subject of Punch-Drunk Love, which strips Sandler of most of his shtick to find him a man so repressed that he's become a cauldron of suppressed anger, prone to brutally assaulting inanimate objects like walls, windows and bathrooms.
He's also given to panic and flight, especially when confronted by any of his seven sisters, all of whom treat him as someone beneath contempt.
Creating a synopsis of Punch-Drunk Love is a nightmare. Sandler's Barry discovers true love with Lena (Emily Watson), is threatened with extortion by a phone-sex operator in Utah (Phil Seymour Hoffman, the only actor to appear in all of Anderson's films), makes a side trip to Hawaii and attempts to amass millions of frequent-flyer miles by purchasing pudding.
Anderson's movies aren't long because he's indulgent. They're long because they're dense, and Punch-Drunk Love is the densest 90-minute romantic comedy you'll ever see.
Indeed, it's a film that demands to be seen twice, the first time to appreciate the jaw-dropping weirdness of it, the second to get past the weirdness and appreciate the strange sweetness of tone and Sandler's and Watson's performances. email@example.com
PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, produced by Anderson, Joanne Sellar, Daniel Lupi, with Adam Sandler, Emily Watson, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Luis Guzmán. 90 minutes. Opens Friday (October 11). A Universal release. For venus and times, see First-Run Movies, page 88. Rating: NNNN