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What a strange, strange movie; Paul Thomas Anderson (or P.T. Anderson, as he’s sometimes called), writer/director of Boogie Nights and Magnolia, making a romantic comedy starring Adam Sandler.

I remember reading a short interview with Anderson in some magazine years ago, around the time Magnolia was released, and he said his dream project would be to do a movie with Adam Sandler.  Being a huge Sandler fan, I was intrigued by this idea, yet I quickly forgot about it, assuming it was one of those Hollywood ideas that would never come to life.  But lo and behold, four years later, we’ve got Punch-Drunk Love.

Punch-Drunk Love
I have to admit this is the first P.T. Anderson movie I’ve seen.  I look forward to seeing his other films, although I’m aware that this was a huge departure for Anderson.  His three previous movies, the aforementioned ones plus the gambling drama Hard Eight, were long, dour character studies.  Punch-Drunk Love is a character study, too, but it’s short (95 minutes) and slick, and only involves about four or five detailed characters.  This movie came out in theaters last fall, did a good amount of business in limited release, and earned Sandler a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy.  A co-production of New Line Cinema and Sony’s Revolution Studios, Punch-Drunk Love has been released by Columbia/Tri-Star Home Video on a 2-disc special edition, with the movie itself given the Superbit treatment for ultimate video and audio quality.

This is a difficult movie to sum up in a few sentences.  It’s basically a very dark romantic “comedy” about Barry Egan (Sandler), the owner of a novelty plunger business in California’s San Fernando Valley.  Barry’s got seven sisters who have treated him like crap all his life, and have driven him to become a shy guy with a lot of repressed anger.  But suddenly, Barry’s got to deal with a number of problems.  First, there’s the mysterious woman named Lena (Emily Watson) who works with one of Barry’s sisters and has requested to meet him.  Barry likes her, but he obviously has a problem speaking to anyone he doesn’t know, let alone a woman he may come to love.  Then there’s the phone call Barry makes to a phone sex line.  He calls just because he wants to talk to someone, about his work, his daily life, whatever, so he reluctantly gives out his credit card and social security number to the service.  The owner of the phone sex service, played by Anderson regular Philip Seymour Hoffman, launches a “war” against Barry, planning to attack him and extort money.  And then there’s the pudding...

A portion of this movie is based on a true story of a California man who accumulated over a million frequent flyer miles by taking advantage of a giveaway promotion by Healthy Choice pudding.  Barry does the same, resulting in a great sequence in which Barry and his co-worker, Lance (another frequent Anderson player, Luis Guzman) scour the grocery store for Healthy Choice pudding.

Punch-Drunk Love
So yeah, this movie is definitely weird.  I had heard it was a romantic comedy, and while it is heavy on the romance, there’s not much comedy.  In preparation for his writing of the film, P.T. Anderson worked as a writer on Sandler’s alma mater, Saturday Night Live, to sharpen his comedic skills.  Well, there are a few laugh out loud moments, but the rest of comedy is just in the premise itself.  There’s that fantastic scene where Sandler dances in the isle as he and Guzman clean out the supermarket’s pudding supply.  I loved that.  But as far as comedy goes, it lies somewhere in between laugh-out-loud-funny and just funny-funny.  Does that make sense?  I guess you just have to see the movie.

The performances are all great.  After watching the movie, I went online and read a lot of critics’ reviews of Punch-Drunk Love, and I found most of them to be extremely mean and condescending toward Adam Sandler.  They were all more or less saying, “I love the movie. It’s great.  Who knew this doofus Sandler could act?”  Well, all us Sandler fans did.  The guy is fantastic in this movie, and anyone who paid attention to his older comedies would have seen this great performance coming--seriously.  Emily Watson is equally good as Lena, although her character is nowhere near as quirky as Sandler’s.  Hoffman and Guzman are also great in their small supporting roles.  Also, SNL/Sandler fans should note that famed SNL writer/cartoonist Robert Smigel (better known to Conan O’Brien fans as Triumph the Insult Comic Dog) has a cameo in Punch-Drunk Love, playing one of Sandler’s brothers-in-law.

Punch-Drunk Love is one weird movie.  Anderson’s style (long single takes, wacky color scheme, etc.) was almost too much for me here, but every time Punch-Drunk Love gets too artsy, it gets rolling again.  This is especially evident in the film’s final act, when nearly all the comedy is put to the side to make way for a shocking revenge storyline.  It almost becomes a gritty action movie, but even then, Punch-Drunk Love keeps hold of its original theme of colorful, Hawaiian romance.

Punch-Drunk Love, presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1, is an extremely colorful film.  An artist named Jeremy Blake was employed to lend the movie a number of colorful scene transitions.  It’s hard to describe (the technique was also used in the film’s advertisements).  I loaned my mom this movie, and although she’s a fan of both Adam Sandler and P.T. Anderson, she told me she couldn’t watch it because the colors were too extreme, abruptly shifting from very bright to very dark.  Well, that’s my mom, but I can see what she’s saying.  It’s a visually exhausting movie.

Punch-Drunk Love
I like that this small film was given a nice 2-disc Superbit treatment, but it’s not the best movie to showcase the idea of Superbit, in which all the extra features are removed from a DVD to devote the highest amount of space on the disc to better audio and video quality.  Don’t get me wrong, Punch-Drunk Love looks really amazing here. It’s just that the way it’s intentionally shot, with lots of shadows and some odd lighting, doesn’t make use of Superbit video the way a music-video movie like Charlie’s Angels does.

For what it is, this transfer is near perfect, although I did notice some edge enhancement.  Again though, this is mainly due to the way it was filmed. Barry, who wears a royal blue business suit for the entire film, is constantly standing in front of blazingly bright backgrounds, so there’s some very slight edge enhancement around the outline of his blue suit.  No matter, though.  It’s barely noticeable.

Wow.  I’ve reviewed a lot of titles that were pretty much “dialogue driven” movies, and I thought Punch-Drunk Love would be another one.  After five minutes of near-silence at the beginning of the movie, there’s a huge car crash scene (Chapter 1) that scared the hell out of me.  Right away I knew that my front and surround speakers wouldn’t be sleeping through this one.

The disc comes with four audio tracks; English Dolby Digital 5.1, English DTS, English Dolby Surround, and French Dolby Surround.  (I apologize in advance to those DTS-loving readers, because my receiver only does Dolby Digital 5.1, so that’s as far as I can review...)

The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is great.  As I mentioned before, this is a Superbit disc, so the audio is top-notch.  The dialogue is crystal clear, even when the characters are whispering.  Anderson’s go-to composer, Jon Brion, provides a strange but nice Hawaiian-sounding score that’s pretty heavy on the bass.  Sounds great.

The English Dolby Surround is pretty good, too, but you understandably won’t get the same sound you’d get if you heard the movie in 5.1. [EDIT: Having heard the DTS and Dolby Digital tracks from this disc I can safely say the DTS track is slightly better in terms of quality and the usual added punch, particularly in the quirky soundtrack. – Pete R]

Punch-Drunk Love
Although it’s not classified as such on the box (the Superbit logo is even tucked away), this is a Sony Superbit Deluxe release, in that only the movie is included on the first disc, and all the supplements are included on the second.

I hate when quirky movies have quirky extras.  I don’t usually enjoy the supplements included on big budget action movies, because it’s all the same.  Blue screen, wires, blah, blah, blah... But a movie like Punch-Drunk Love... I want to see how they did all this!  Alas, the extras are just as weird as the movie itself.

First, there’s a 12 minute short film called Blossoms & Blood.  Weird.  This is just portions of the movie; very little deleted material and it’s mostly just different takes of the same footage that was in the original movie set against more of Jeremy Blake’s artwork and Jon Brion’s song “Here We Go.”  It’s nice to look at, but this is basically just a long music video.

Next are two deleted scenes.  The first, “The Sisters Call” runs for about 7 minutes.  This is an extension of a scene that takes place early on in the movie in which Barry’s sisters call and bother him at work while they fight amongst themselves about the scheduling of a birthday party (Barry couldn’t care less).  It’s easy to see why this was taken out, because the movie doesn’t require this much time to express the fact that Barry’s sisters are annoying.  Next is “Are You From California?” which is just a slightly different version of Barry’s encounter with the phone sex thugs.

Mattress Man Commercial is a short ad starring Philip Seymour Hoffman in character, advertising his character’s mattress and furniture store.  Again, pretty weird, but where else can you see Philip Seymour Hoffman jump off a roof on to a pile of mattresses on a van?

Additional Artwork is a montage of Jeremy Blake’s artwork set to the Hawaiian music and featuring stills from the movie.

The promotional material including consists of three different trailers for the movie, and twelve scopitones, which are very short clips from the movie decorated with the artwork and music.  The scopitones were used to advertise the movie on its website.

All the special features come with optional Korean subtitles.

Punch-Drunk Love
I enjoyed Punch-Drunk Love.  It’s an exciting, strange comedy-drama with a strong message about true love.  I have a feeling this is the kind of movie that will get better with repeat viewings.

Sony has given this small, somewhat underappreciated movie a nice DVD treatment.  The audio and video are great, but I think some more common extra features would have been nice.  I’d love to hear a commentary on this movie by anyone involved with the production.