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2-Star Review: Punch-Drunk Love

Punch-Drunk Love promo poster, courtesy of nitehawkcinema.com
Punch-Drunk Love promo poster, courtesy of nitehawkcinema.com

Netflix rating: 2.2 stars
Personal rating: 2.9 stars
Rated R
Starring Adam Sandler and Emily Watson

Full-disclosure: I watched this movie at one in the morning, and when you watch a movie at one in the morning you’re in it for the entertainment. This is not a good movie for entertainment. If you’re look for artsy camerawork and an intriguing plot line, this movie is definitely for you. However, if you’re looking for something compelling and genuinely attention-grabbing, you may want to scroll on by.

Adam Sandler plays Barry Egan, the main protagonist who’s really just trying to figure out how to cope with his life. Between being constantly harassed by his sisters, getting screwed over by a con business, and suffering from what is at the least severely low self-esteem coupled with fits of rage, Barry has a hard time feeling good about himself and feeling good about life. This all changes when he meets Lena (Emily Watson). Lena is able to do what no one else in Barry’s life has done: show him that life can be worth happiness and excitement.

Don’t get me wrong, this was an extremely cute movie. It was sweet, charming, heartfelt, and every other feel-good adjective you can slap on to an Adam Sandler rom-com. What turned me off from it was the fact that it was so…boring. I didn’t really care what happened to Barry and Lena, especially when it came to their relationship. I knew they were going to end up together; there was no tension.

Artsy. Courtesy of sensanostra.com
Artsy.
Courtesy of sensanostra.com

Another odd thing about Punch Drunk Love is that it’s so obvious this movie was somebody’s baby. Someone held this movie in their arms, looked at it lovingly, and put all their hopes and dreams as a filmmaker into it. That kind of passion is great, but it makes for an odd movie. The cinematography was almost distracting, in that it took emphasis away from the plot and the characters and instead put the emphasis on how amazing certain shots look from certain angles. Technically and artistically, a lot can be gleaned from this film, but at the cost of an actually compelling plot.

One quick thing I will note was that I was a little confused about the way mental illness was handled in the film. For the most part, Barry’s irregularities are shamed by every single character, including himself. The only one who is able to fully accept him is (surprise, surprise) Lena. The weird thing is that by the end of the movie, Barry seems to have overcome his rage and self-loathing all because he’s realized the most important thing in his life is Lena. He never actually gets help for his anger or feelings of low self-worth; his problems are conveniently solved by – yepp, you guessed it – true love. The intention is innocent enough, but in my eyes we really don’t need more myths about mental illness flying around, least of all the ones that proclaim love will solve everything.

Opening shot of Punch-Drunk Love, courtesy of rogerebert.com
Opening shot of Punch-Drunk Love, courtesy of rogerebert.com

While this is far from one of the worst movies I’ve ever watched, it’s also not the greatest. I do believe it’s possible to have an artistically beautiful film as well as a compelling and well-developed story (looking at you, Moonrise Kingdom). Punch-Drunk Love simply didn’t achieve that, although it made a hell of an effort. So if you like Adam Sandler, artsy camerawork, and/or watching Phillip Seymour Hoffman screw over innocent civilians, look it up, click play, and sit back and enjoy. If not, there’s always Moonrise Kingdom.