Punch me, I'm dreaming

Paul Thomas Anderson paints this, his first romantic comedy, with broad, bold strokes. The forces at foot move the plot forward quickly and clearly. The film takes an occasional interlude, where streaming warm colors melt into stars to represent the self-assured but askew ideals held by the characters.

Adam Sandler and Emily Watson are Barry and Lena, two hopelessly befuddled-in-love folk who are set up by one of Sandler's seven sisters. The biggest obstacle - aside from a self-righteous extortion-posing-as-a-sex-line gang from Utah - is Barry's compulsive and occasionally violent nature. By compulsive, I offer up how he buys out all the Healthy Choice pudding in town for the frequent flyer miles. As for the violence, Barry excuses himself on their first date to cool off in the bathroom, and ends up tearing it apart.

Adam Sandler? He can slog his way through a dopey romantic comedy, but here, as a sweet, but hot-tempered young enterpriser who struggles mightily, the demands on the actor are hard drama, despite the subject matter. He is the perfect choice for the role, believe it or not. Given the awful films he usually chooses, it's also the perfect choice for his career. Even Anderson, once the predictable resistance subsides, ought to receive a boost in his career for squeezing such a performance out of Sandler.

Of Anderson's well known films, this one most resembles his most recent - Magnolia. Very random and startling occurances (a car crash, a musical instrument called a Harmonium simply dropped off in the middle of the street for no apparent reason) set the story in motion, but the actual plot is driven almost entirely on the deep needs of the characters. At a bare 89 minutes, the number of simultaneous plots is dropped substantially - as a comedy, more or less, you can't afford to let the audience dwell too long on one thing.

One thing Anderson may never be justly accused of doing is being too tidy. His characters experience real pains to get where they're going. The story itself errs some on the sloppy side too - and maybe I'm just nitpicking here - but it creates the central question of the film within a space that the same question never really gets resolved in. But I don't really have much to complain about - his themes are well supported, the nuances well conceived and executed. I do still wonder where the Harmonium really came from, though.

Punch Drunk Love is another feather in P.T. Anderson's cap - who knows how many other genres will he take on from here?

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