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Punch-Drunk Love: The Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review

Punch-Drunk Love (2002) movie poster Punch-Drunk Love

Theatrical Release: October 11, 2002 / Running Time: 95 Minutes / Rating: R

Writer/Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Cast: Adam Sandler (Barry Egan), Emily Watson (Lena Leonard), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Dean Trumbell), Luis Guzmαn (Lance), Mary Lynn Rajskub (Elizabeth), Lisa Spector (Susan), Julie Hermelin (Kathleen), Karen Hermelin (Anna), Hazel Mailloux (Rhonda), Nicole Gelbard (Nicole), David Stevens (David), Jimmy Stevens (Jim), Nathan Stevens (Nate), Mike D. Stevens (Mike D.), Ashley Clark (Phone Sex Sister), Robert Smigel (Walter the Dentist)

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This week, something you probably thought would never happen has happened. An Adam Sandler movie has joined The Criterion Collection. Sure, Punch-Drunk Love is more a Paul Thomas Anderson movie than a Sandler one.
But the star was more famous than the writer-director then and he continues to be so now, even as his career, after two decades of commercial success, has devolved from theaters to straight-to-Netflix.

Critics have ragged on Sandler as much as any modern leading man, but he's repeatedly proven he has talent they can appreciate: in Judd Apatow's Funny People, Mike Binder's Reign Over Me, James L. Brooks' Spanglish. Punch-Drunk Love came before those and it is better than all of them too. This offbeat 2002 romantic comedy adheres to the Sandler formula that was already easily identifiable: a sympathetic but socially stunted protagonist prone to violent outbursts, who has to control those emotions to win the girl. But Anderson, an unabashed Sandler fan, made the art house version of movies like Happy Gilmore, Billy Madison, and Big Daddy.

"Punch-Drunk Love" stars Adam Sandler as Barry Egan, a plunger manufacturing company owner who stocks up on Healthy Choice for its potentially lucrative frequent flyer mile promotion.

Barry Egan (Sandler) of Sherman Oaks, California owns a bathroom supply manufacturing business. On the day the film opens, Barry has chosen to worn a brand new blue suit to work for the first time. At work bright and early before everyone else, Barry sees a car flip over and seconds later, a harmonium is inexplicably placed on the side of the road. Then, he meets Lena Leonard (Emily Watson), who asks him to give her car keys to the mechanic shop next door once they open.

Lena, it turns out, is a co-worker of one of Barry's seven sisters, who frequently pester him at work on the phone and have inevitably ganged up on him since childhood. Being the only boy in the family has no doubt contributed to Barry's lonely, awkward nature. Plagued by crying episodes and self-loathing, he asks a brother-in-law (Robert Smigel), who's a dentist, for a confidential psychiatrist recommendation.

Barry (Adam Sandler) leans in to tell Lena (Emily Watson) about his pudding for frequent flier miles plan.

But Punch-Drunk Love is no counseling movie. Instead, Barry's life takes shape in three major ways. First, he calls a phone sex hotline, whom he gives all of his personal information to (in an unusual move, Anderson has Barry give a seemingly legit address, phone number, and credit card number instead of Hollywood's 555 area code convention).
This backfires immediately, when "Georgia", the girl he spoke to, begins asking him for help paying her rent. Believing Barry to be vulnerable and deep-pocketed, the sex line owner, a Utah mattress store owner (Philip Seymour Hoffman) approves a shakedown process involving blonde brothers.

While that is going on, Barry begins to fall for Lena after they go out on a proper date and click (despite another violent outburst occurring in private). He even shares with her the other big thing in his life: exploiting a promotion in which you can earn copious amounts of American Airlines frequent flyer miles by buying Healthy Choice food products. Recognizing the remarkable and surely unintended value, Barry begins stocking up on $1 four-packs of pudding that contain four UPC codes and can be doubled with a coupon.

Though he isn't pleased with the promotion's 6 to 8 week processing time, Barry still spontaneously hops on a plane for the first time in his life to go see Lena in Hawaii, where she is traveling for business. Their feelings develop, but trouble awaits both of them back in California.

"Shut, shut, shut, shut, shut up!" In his fourth of five performances for Paul Thomas Anderson, the late Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Dean Trumbell, a mattress salesman whose side phone sex business involves shaking down wealthy clients.

Punch-Drunk Love is a most distinctive film in the canons of both its author and its leading man. It finds common ground between the two contemporaries whose contributions to cinema are at first thought vastly distant. Collaboration benefits both of them in huge ways. Anderson delivers a surprisingly sweet film unlike his other acclaimed dramas,
which include The Master, There Will Be Blood, Magnolia, and Boogie Nights. Sandler, meanwhile, has never been more complex, passionate, and mature.

Anderson is more responsible for the charms of a film that is magnificently shot and kinetically scored. This hypnotic, deliberate presentation captures the euphoria of new love and the panic of it being endangered as well as any film I've ever seen. "Romantic" is not a word that comes to mind to describe Sandler, but he is just that here across from Watson, who has never been better. A British actress unlike Sandler's usual love interests (Bridgette Wilson, Julie Bowen, Joey Lauren Adams, Winona Ryder, and so on), the leading lady somehow finds perfect chemistry with him and sells the potentially unstable whirlwind relationship on faith, optimism, and mutual eccentricity.

Punch-Drunk Love manages to move repeatedly even while remaining very funny throughout. Its highlights include an unusually low-key Luis Guzmαn as Barry's loyal co-worker, the late Philip Seymour Hoffman being unforgettably volcanic in limited screentime, and an exquisite use of "He Needs Me", Shelley Duvall's musical number as Olive Oyl in Robert Altman's long-unloved Popeye. Charming, invigorating, and discomforting at different times, the film is full of striking compositions and sustains a feeling befitting the title, complete with flourishes like kaleidoscopic opening and closing titles and an Iris out on a Hawaiian hand hold.

The film mostly won over critics, but like Anderson's other work, it was given more of a mixed reception from general moviegoers. Still, they did pay it some notice, the movie's $17.8 million domestic gross (a far cry from the $100 M+ Sandler's signature vehicles consistently earned) besting the totals of the director's more narrowly distributed recent films The Master and Inherent Vice. The film earned Sandler a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical. Though he ended up losing to Chicago's Richard Gere, it may be the most serious film honor he's received to date, with most of his other recognition coming from Nickelodeon's Kids' Choice Awards, the People's Choice, and MTV Movie Awards.

Anderson's body of work has been analyzed, celebrated, and studied as much as any modern filmmaker, making him an obvious choice for repeat Criterion consideration. Actually, though, this represents his first time getting the Criterion treatment since 1998's Boogie Nights laserdisc. Claiming spine number 843, Punch-Drunk Love makes its Blu-ray debut here, ten years into the format's launch.

Punch-Drunk Love: The Criterion Collection Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.39:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired
Extras Not Subtitled; Not Closed Captioned
Suggested Retail Price: $39.95
Release Date: November 15, 2015
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Clear Keepcase
Also available as 2-disc DVD ($29.95 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video
Previously released by Sony as Triple Feature DVD with Reign Over Me and Spanglish (June 16, 2015), Two-Disc Special Edition DVD (June 24, 2003), and Single-Disc DVD (December 2, 2003)

VIDEO and AUDIO

Quite possibly the most visually stunning romantic comedy out there, Punch-Drunk Love looks terrific on Blu-ray. The 2.39:1 presentation showcases the vibrant colors and compelling compositions without any serious problems. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack does an excellent job of distributing dialogue and the sometimes effects-like music.

Barry (Adam Sandler) makes off-color comments about a kid hanging around his workplace in this strange deleted scene. In character as the D & D mattress man, Philip Seymour Hoffman pitches mattresses and takes a fall off the stack of mattresses in this faux commercial.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray's all-HD extras, which include everything that made Sony's Two Disc Special Edition DVD and quite a bit more, begin with a section of two deleted scenes. The first (7:18) sees Barry getting still more phone calls from his sisters while at work about the family's party that night and then talking inappropriately about a kid he sees. The second one (2:23) sees Barry talking with the blonde men sent to shake him down.

A "Mattress Man" commercial (0:52) sees Philip Seymour Hoffman's slimy salesman jumping off a truck to land on a car covered with a stack of five mattresses, only to fall off them about ten feet to the uncovered asphalt. It's really Hoffman and it's evidently intended, demonstrating the lengths the actor would go to this director with whom he repeatedly worked.

"Blossoms and Blood" makes use of outtakes from the film, as well as some more Jon Brion scopitones. Composer Jon Brion reflects on his "Punch-Drunk Love" music in an exclusive new Criterion interview.

Blossoms and Blood (11:58) is a short film comprised of outtakes and unused footage from the film set to Jon Brion's song "Here We Go." There's more of the found harmonium,
Barry's difficulty to find Lena's apartment is expanded upon, and there's another mesmerizing pudding run at the 99-cent store.

Twelve short "Scopitones" (6:20) serve up Jeremy Blake visuals and music from the film. They sort of defy description, but are interesting to see.

In "Jon Brion on Punch-Drunk Love" (27:19), the composer reflects at length on his often unorthodox work on the film that "blur the line between soundtrack and sound design" in this brand new 2016 interview. Alongside this is footage from one of Brion's recording sessions (9:56) conducted at Abbey Road Studios in December 2001. It's pretty ordinary footage, even if the score has an unusual sound to it.

Jeremy Blake, the late artist responsible for the film's evocative optical visuals, is recalled by colleagues Michael Connor and Lia Gangitano in a new interview (20:25), which also showcases a bunch of his artwork. "Additional Artwork" (2:42) showcases more images created by Blake for the film, setting the visuals to the Hawaiian-flavored song "I've Gone Native Now."

Paul Thomas Anderson and Adam Sandler enjoy giving light-hearted answers to serious questions from international journalists in the Cannes 2002 press conference. An NBC daytime interview lets David Phillips explain the Healthy Choice frequent flyer mile promotion he exploited with pudding cups.

From the 2002 Cannes Film Festival come two items. First, "Studio Interviews" (7:02) sees Philip Seymour Hoffman, Emily Watson, Adam Sandler, and Paul Thomas Anderson
giving spirited English answers to a French host named Lawrence's translated questions. Next, the same four plus producer JoAnne Sellar answer questions at a Cannes Press Conference (37:52) following the film's premiere screening in May 2002. They talk about such topics as the film's runtime, title, casting, themes, content, and inspirations.

"The Pudding Guy" (5:04) is an interview of David Phillips by Katie Couric on NBC's morning news. The real life inspiration for Barry's Healthy Choice strategy, Phillips explains how he took advantage of the company's frequent flyer promotion. What a delightful and appropriate inclusion.

On-disc extras conclude with three trailers: the film's theatrical trailer (2:27), Jeremy Blake's trippy, kaleidoscopic "Love" (1:24), and the French TV spot "Eat Tomorrow" (0:33).

A shot of the harmonium left on the side of the road serves as Criterion's simple but effective Punch-Drunk Love menu image.

The static, silent menu settles on the roadside harmonium. Of course, Criterion authors the disc to resume playback and support bookmarks as well.

The clear keepcase allows Criterion to utilize characteristically tasteful double-sided artwork. There also, of course, is a booklet, which provides disc, film, and transfer information in addition to "A Delegate Speaks", an enjoyable new 3-page essay by filmmaker and author Miranda July. While celebratory of the film, it is also revealing of its writer, a former stripper who relates to Barry's spontaneous trip to Hawaii. For a Criterion essay, it's a refreshingly down-to-earth and off-the-cuff piece.

Meeting in Hawaii, Lena and Barry create one of the film's many artful images in this silhouettes in front of scenery shot that was used in the film's theatrical one-sheet.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Better on every viewing, Punch-Drunk Love continues to inch towards masterpiece status fourteen years after its initial release. The unlikely union of Paul Thomas Anderson and Adam Sandler yields a strange and beautiful romantic comedy full of flair, craft, and emotion.

Criterion's Blu-ray treats the film to a first-class feature presentation as well a fitting and tasteful assembly of extras. I highly recommend this release.

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Related Reviews:
New to Disc: Coffee and Cigarettes • Space Jam (20th Anniversary Steelbook)
Written and Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson: Inherent Vice • The Master • There Will Be Blood
Adam Sandler: The Cobbler • Funny People • Men, Women & Children • That's My Boy • Bedtime Stories • Blended • Grown Ups
Adam Sandler (continued): Jack and Jill • Just Go With It • Pixels • Grown Ups 2 • Hotel Transylvania • Zookeeper
Emily Watson: War Horse • Cemetery Junction • The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep
Philip Seymour Hoffman: Doubt • Jack Goes Boating • The Big Lebowski • The Hunger Games: Complete 4-Film Collection • The Ides of March
2002: Catch Me If You Can • The Ring | Millennial Criterions: The Royal Tenenbaums • Y Tu Mamα Tambiιn

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Reviewed November 19, 2016.



Text copyright 2016 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2002 Columbia Pictures, Revolution Studios, New Line Cinema, and 2016 The Criterion Collection.
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