Punch-Drunk Love

Why does Emily Watson even bother? It’s a good question. I do have a fondness for these sorts of films: What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?, Garden State, Adventureland – possibly the apotheosis was reached with Buffalo 66, where the female saviour’s patience is positively angelic rather than anything recognisably human. So why does it bug me now, when Paul Thomas Anderson does the same thing? Maybe I expect more from him. Or maybe I’ve become less patient.

Watson is an only child and a divorcee, while Sandler is running away from seven sisters and (by the looks of it) has never had a girlfriend. She may just be after a quick fix – both characters are so frustrated their sexual drives have become disturbingly violent (I want to crush your eyeballs with my teeth etc.) No doubt loneliness can make you pretty desperate. Once you interrogate the fairytale you wonder how long Watson will stick around. But that’s beside the point. The film isn’t really about Watson. It’s about the male protagonist, of course.

P.T. Anderson wanted to make an Adam Sandler movie that was also an “art film”. I guess that explains the looong drag-my-steady-cam-until-I-drop tracking shots, the gooey fluorescent lights and the random piano (sorry, harmonium). Beyond the stylistic bric-a-brac, Anderson also offers an investigation into what exactly the problem with Sandler might be. One clue is found in the brilliant and hilarious showdown with Phillip Seymour Hoffman at the end. Two ridiculous figures summoning up all their male pride to yell “FUCK YOU!” at each other, trying to get the last word in before walking away. Hoffman is the baddie because he’s a pimp who (literally) controls when his women speak. Sandler on the other hand ends up defending Watson from his stupidities and submitting to her beneficent care. He admits his lies in moments of tenderness. Under Watson’s tutelage, he might even be able to learn to live with himself. If she sticks around. But that question again: why should she?

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