October 11th is the 20-year anniversary of Punch-Drunk Love, a movie directed by the renowned Paul Thomas Anderson, starring Adam Sandler and Emily Watson. It revolves around a strange emotionally volcanic man and his quest for companionship.
Punch-Drunk Love is an unorthodox rom-com. It has comedy, romance, and all the attributes of the genre except it’s played straight with no laughter. But that’s what makes it so sincere. Adam Sandler’s Barry could have been the normal male love interest who fights people who get in his way but this movie shows us that he’s got issues so his rage isn’t something romantic, it’s a crutch he doesn’t like. Emily Watson’s Lena is the cute British blonde who meets the boy of her dreams beside a small piano. Later we find out their meet-cute was orchestrated by her. It was not fate, but that’s okay since it never really is.
Love probably isn’t what Sandler’s Barry needs (a therapist, like he tries with his brother-in-law) but it is what he wants judging from the phone sex thing where he asks her to talk to him. He just wants a woman in his life who isn’t horrible to him and that’s what he finds in Lena. As much as everyone wants to be as smooth-talking as Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca, in reality we’re all really weird. We have quirks, we do bad things, but are we bad people? We may not “beat up the bathroom” but we’ll do something incredibly embarrassing or say something unfunny. This movie shows us that even if our significant other is an odd duck, as long as you love each other it does not matter. The only time one of them seems upset at the other lasts about five seconds and it is because Barry leaves Lena alone at the hospital. All it takes is those five seconds for Barry to communicate with her why that happened and that is it. It’s nice seeing a couple communicate for a change considering most rom-com plots revolve around misunderstandings.
In many rom-coms, the male lead is portrayed as this emotionless suave person who does no wrong until the girl finds out later on that he sucks (but then gets back together with him by the end). In Punch-Drunk Love, Barry is a guy who is extremely emotional. He talks to his brother-in-law about how he gets “really sad” and cries a lot, and we see him smash a bunch of stuff when things get a little hard. It’s nice because unlike the typical bad-boy of the genre, Barry is genuinely trying to do better in terms of controlling his anger and sadness. It’s not until he calls the phone sex hotline where the obstacles come and the goons try to extort him that Barry learns to focus his anger on protecting the people he loves.
All that with some of the most beautiful cinematography in Anderson’s career and a whole lot of lens flare, Punch-Drunk Love delivers a fairytale love story and somehow the most realistic take on awkwardness. Currently available on Pluto TV, celebrate the 20th anniversary of Adam Sandler’s first dramatic role.
Kevin de los Cuetos is a senior at Florida International University, pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in English – Creative Writing, along with a certificate in Film Studies.