In the middle of making four modern masterworks – beginning with the brazenly entertaining Boogie Nights and Magnolia, followed by the meditative and emotionally brutal There Will Be Blood and The Master – Paul Thomas Anderson created a weird little film called Punch-Drunk Love. The movie doesn’t get enough credit for being so wildly unlike any other film Anderson has made. It’s short, fast and loose; a film I never tire of. With Anderson’s whacky Inherent Vice current making the rounds in theaters, let’s take a look back at the pulp fiction unconventionality of Punch-Drunk Love.
Two things about this opening shot. First, study the composition. Look how the framing makes Barry Egan (Adam Sandler) seem so small and diminutive. And look at the lines on the walls, how they automatically lead our eyes to the main subject, literally converging on his head. Second, listen to what’s happening in this scene. There’s the slight hum that’s so realistic of the setting (but that most sound mixers would go to great lengths to remove), and also those sparse cords of Jon Brion’s score, as if it’s the light bulb inside of Barry’s head. Whenever he reaches an epiphany, the score chimes away.
Love how Barry just mumbles off when he’s talking to a customer on the phone. “That kind of breakage shouldn’t be a problem in the shi…….”
Look at this shot. Almost every other filmmaker alive would have the actor stand directly under that light to the left, thereby highlight the performer’s face. This is Anderson letting us know that we’re in for something damn different here.
This white-hot reflection. Trust me, this breaks many conventional rules of cinematography, and it is absolutely perfect.
The way the receptionist tells Barry his sister is on the phone via the loud speaker, even though he’s standing directly behind him.
I LOVE how Barry awkwardly shakes the hands of his brothers in law. You can so easily tell that his only education in how to be “manly” came from seven women.
The woman in the red dress deep in the background is clearly following him. It isn’t until Barry stares at her that she finally walks away. But why?
The way Barry ignores the forklift accident. He thinks that if he pretends it isn’t there, then it isn’t there. Just like a child.
“I didn’t ask for a shrink that must have been somebody else. Also that pudding isn’t mine. Also I’m wearing a suit because I had an important meeting this morning and I don’t have a crying problem.”
Displaying these two shots back-to-back is the definition of “breaking the line,” which is a major cinematography faux pas. That’s the school of Paul Thomas Anderson. There. Are. No. Rules.
Love this bit of movie math: Dean (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is paying four knuckleheads $100 total to go rough Barry up. It’s a two day job and they have to cover their own expenses, including gassing up the truck so they can drive 655 miles from Provo, Utah to Sherman Oaks, California. It’s actually going to cost them money to go kick some dude’s ass.
The horrendously muffled sound design of the bathroom-beating scene. It would be very easy to record (or Foley) clean sound for this scene. The fact that Anderson fucks it up on purpose is genius.
Barry’s phone booth meltdown to his sister is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. I lose it every time.
Again with the muffled sound design. Listen to that “thhhUMP!” every time Barry hits one of the attackers.
Similarly to how I always laugh at the phone booth rant, I will never not have chills run down my spine during the two push-ins of Dean in his store. The music, the dolly shot. Exquisite.
Love how Hoffman flicks the phone cord out as he’s talking to Barry. You can’t write that shit. Nor can you direct it. That’s just great acting.
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