Thursday, December 18, 2014

Top 43 Things I Love About Punch-Drunk Love (that no one talks about)

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.

Notice how we can’t hear any traffic until the accident happens.

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…….”

The way Barry says, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa,” to himself when he first sees Lena’s car.

Also, the way he drinks his coffee in this scene, as if to give himself some sort of importance.

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 little waltz Barry does when backing out of his office.

“I… don’t… know.”

I’m pretty sure Punch-Drunk Love is the only film in history to capture lens flares from plungers.

The way the receptionist tells Barry his sister is on the phone via the loud speaker, even though he’s standing directly behind him.

Luis Guzman slamming the plunger against the table in the background.

The quadruple take Barry does when entering his sister’s house.

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 way the sisters curse in front of their kids. They just don’t give a shit.

The placement of those framed pictures.

There’s the humming again. This place actually sounds like a grocery store.

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?

This pan. Utter loneliness on both sides of the frame.

Barry’s instinct to back up whenever he feels under pressure.

Elizabeth’s fast walk. Love how pissed she gets at Barry because of how awkward he was around Lena.

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.

The blue lighting of the car scene. So gorgeous.

“‘And bye-bye,’ you fuckin– ‘And bye-bye’ you stupid motherfucker.”

The insane gasping/panting/wheezing noises Barry makes as he’s being chased.

The way Barry flicks his hand out as he’s talking to the airline guy on the phone.

Why does Lance’s chair break in the middle of this scene? Because well, why the hell not?

Barry’s phone booth meltdown to his sister is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. I lose it every time.

The way the light in the phone booth turns on right as Lena picks up the phone.

Barry sticking out his hand for a handshake as he’s reunited with Lena in Hawaii.

This:

“I don’t have any business here, I came here for you.”

The way the inside of the car is relatively silent during the accident.

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.

Dean doesn’t know what Barry looks like, but he knows that this is Barry. So good.

The way Hoffman leans into Sandler as Barry walks away.

One of my favorite closing lines and shots of all time. Always brings a smile to my face.

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38 comments:

  1. I have yet to see Inherent Vice yet (another month... fuck me) but to date, this is still my favorite PTA movie. It's easily in my top 10 films of all time as well. I just love this movie to death. It's such a weird little rom-com that just stands completely alone in both the genre it's playing in as well as in PTA's own filmography. The performances are fantastic across the board (seriously, why not more talk from people about how funny Guzman is in this movie?), the cinematography is just gorgeous. I love how the score actually interacts with the actual sound and "live" music from the movie. "THAT" conversation. Just one of the most pleasurable experiences I get from watching a movie. So glad you highlighted it!

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    1. Awesome man! I had no idea this was your favorite PTA. I dig all of his work, but this one manages to grow and grow on me every time I watch it. It's so whimsical and alive. Really special shit. And Guzman is hilarious. So understated.

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  2. I watched it last month! And one thing: the bruise mark on Barry's fist forms a word "LOVE" random but interesting. Oh, well, the excessive lens flare! Love it!

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    1. Holy shit I never noticed the LOVE bruises! Such a great catch on your part. Thanks so much for the comment!

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    2. It's PTA paying homage to "The Night Of the Hunter." A film where a sociopathic preacher has the words love and hate tattooed on either fist.

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  3. There's so many things about that film that I love. I love that part where Lance's chair breaks. It just makes me love Luis Guzman even more. Did you know that John C. Reilly was supposed to play one of those brothers that were supposed to beat-up Adam Sandler?

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    1. I had no idea Reilly was supposed to play one of the brothers! Ha, shit, that would've been great. But I do love those idiots as is. Such a great film.

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  4. I really hope that Sandler comes to his senses and elects to cling forever to PTA one of these days.

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    1. That would be great. I actually really love his work in this movie.

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  5. you should do this kind of post for the brothers coens' a serious man.

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    1. Ohh interesting idea. I'm not completely psyched about that movie, but I've only seen it twice, several years ago. Definitely a film worth diving deeper into.

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  6. Oh, this is really an underrated film. I love it so much, and it's sad that many people call it minor PTA, because all of his films are great. There are so many things I love about this film. I hope Adam Sandler can get back on track and do more films like this. Also, why isn't Emily Watson in more films?! She's so good in everything. The way she says that last line always makes me so happy.

    Also, I wanted to know what you thought about Aaron Sorkin's comments on actors and actresses?

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    1. Definitely not a minor film. No way, no how. I love it! And I agree, Emily Watson should be in all the films. Just... all of them. She's so good.

      Sorkin is delicate to talk about, so I'll choose my words carefully. Him talking about the Oscars, about men having a higher bar to hit than women. Essentially, to me, he’s saying that men have more challenging roles to compete against in the Best Actor/Supporting Actor categories. To that point, I actually agree. But this has nothing whatsoever to do with the talent of female actors, but rather the material they are given to work with. Frankly, the Oscars rarely nominate 10 truly amazing and challenging and fierce female performances every year, because they are very hard to find. Again, that’s my negative interpretation of the industry, not of actresses. I love actresses, and as a filmmaker, I’ve dedicated my career to writing complex and interesting roles for women. But Hollywood does not. OF COURSE more than 10 amazing female performances exist every year, but not in films that the Oscars pay attention to.

      Now, IF that is what Sorkin meant, he articulated himself in a very, very poor way. For an Oscar-winning writer, it’s a very misleading email. But, the flip side to that argument is that it was a private email, and very few people are looking to win Pulitzer’s for penning a private email, you know? I don’t think Sorkin is sexiest, but, in that particular case, he wrote a clunky and poorly worded email. His op-ed in the New York Times, however, is probably the best response I’ve read about these email hacks. One that I fully agree with. So, those are my two cents. Hope I was clear!

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    2. Yeah, I think I'd agree with that. Sorkin is part of the problem, because he has the talent and the clout to be able to write and produce a script featuring women in the leads. It's nice to hear that you're trying to break the mold by creating and writing these roles for women :)

      Also, you are SPOT ON about the female performances. There are so many great and complex ones each year, yet the Academy just doesn't want to make the effort to actually go look for them. I could easily name for than 10 this year, for example.

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    3. Ultimately, the problem is with the industry. I do think Sorkin has created some fantastic and memorable female characters (though most of them were for TV), but I honestly don't know that just because he writes a female-heavy script, that automatically means a major studio will make it, you know? The whole damn ordeal is just a bummer.

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    4. Yeah, you have a point there about the industry. I haven't seen The Newsroom nor any of his other shows apart from The West Wing, so I wouldn't know about female characters there, but I thought the female characters on The West Wing were great (C.J. Cregg especially).

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    5. CJ was perfect, I loved her so much. And Olivia Munn and Emily Mortimer have a lot of fun with their characters on The Newsroom.

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  7. This is probably my favorite Paul Thomas Anderson and definitely my favorite Adam Sandler movie. I don't like a lot of his comedies (Happy Gilmore will always be one of my favorites though), but he is usually a great dramatic actor. I wish he would do more of that. But yeah, this film is just fantastic. I don't even know how many times i have watched this movie. It's definitely one of my all time favorite movies. I love everything you said about it here.

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    1. That's great man, love that this is your favorite PTA. It also manages to grow on me. And I think Sandler is fantastic in it.

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  8. Ahh you made me want to watch this film all over again!

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    1. So good! Never a bad time to watch this one.

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  9. Love this, Alex. For some reason, I haven't felt as much for a PTA film since Punch-Drunk Love. I've greatly admired There Will Be Blood and The Master, yet they didn't grab me in the same way. This film and Magnolia are still my favorites, and you point out so many of the reasons. I can't imagine how much time it takes to put this type of post together.

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    1. Thanks, Dan. Yeah, these posts do take a while. I'd love to be able to write more of them, but they're pretty tough. Really glad you dig them though! So happy to hear your praise for PDL. It's such an oddly charming film, isn't it?

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  10. I love these posts! I just added Punch Drunk Love to my instant queue. I'll come back and read your post after I watch it. ;-)

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    1. It's definitely an odd flick, but so very special. Can't wait to hear what you think!

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  11. This film is such a perfect cross between Jacques Tati, Woody Allen and David Lynch. It's such an oddball of a film but I really dig that after the two massive casts of Boogie Nights and Magnolia, he decided to scale down and do a surreal romance comedy starring Adam Sandler. I wasn't aware of Anderson in 2002, but I can imagine fans of his scratching their heads. What's so great is that he makes these odd casting choices totally work and make you wanting more from that actor.

    Also, I love, love, love the Mattress Man commercial on the DVD.

    Off topic, but the latest Criterion batch of releases for March...sounds like you were behind them: Cries and Whispers, Hoop Dreams and The Thin Blue Line. Hmm...

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    1. That Criterion list is INSANE! Too bad I already own those three haha. But I think I'll definitely have to make he upgrade for Cries and Whispers. The transfer on the Criterion DVD I have isn't as good as it could be. So I'm looking forward to that reissue.

      As for PDL... I remember seeing that in the theater and literally scratching my head. I actually didn't like it the first time. But, like most PTA films, they get better with age.

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  12. " The way the light in the phone booth turns on right as Lena picks up the phone." - oh that is lovely!

    I did appreciate this movie but I didn't like it, just not the style that I enjoy. I think it might have been a bit too sophisticated for me, in terms of oddity and experimental stuff. I did love the acting and the cinematography, but the only two Anderson's movies I truly enjoyed are Boogie Nights and Magnolia

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    1. That's totally fair. It has a very purposeful style that is bound to alienate people. So I completely get where you're coming from. Glad you appreciate the cinematography though, it really is stunning.

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  13. Finally watched the film and man, it's fuckin' fantastic. I'm so into those amazing and brilliantly unexpected posts of yours about things you love in films that no one talks about. The closing shot is pure brilliance. And anyone who can pull out of Adam Sandler a really good performance is a genius. PTA just rocks. This is how a film should look and feel like. Loved it. And fuckin' loved your post as well. Great work, buddy.

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    1. Thanks man! SO glad you liked this one, I really thought you might. It gets better and better every time I watch it. And Sandler... yeah, he's fantastic in this. He really nailed the tone of the film.

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  14. Man I love this movie, and I love that you brought up several things about it that I completely missed out on. Can't wait to watch it again now.

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    1. Awesome man, love hearing that. Such a great and odd little flick here.

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  15. Brilliant post! The cinematography has always been one of my favorite parts of the movie, though Sandler's performance is pretty terrific as well. Love this movie!

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    1. Thanks! Elswit did wonders here. The camera is ALWAYS where it needs to be in this movie.

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  16. This is a great film for this series of yours! You know I love that final confrontation between Barry and The Mattress Man. Such a good movie.

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    1. Hell yeah man! Love so much about this movie. Such an odd little flick.

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