Punch Drunk Love is a difficult movie to really love but itís equally difficult to hate. There are enough scenes of beauty and humor in it that one canít simply write it off. However, it also stretches out its concept far too long, with many long sections of tedium and even discomfort. These are not always easy characters to watch. One thing is for sure: this is most definitely not your typical Adam Sandler movie.The film is about Barry, the owner of a small toilet plunger company. Barry canít seem to interact with people, much to the disappointment and harassment of his overbearing sisters. He knows he has problems, but doesnít know who to go to. So Barry calls a phone sex line. Though the phone sex therapy fails miserably, in an unrelated turn of events Barry meets an equally socially maladjusted woman named Lena Leonard. Just when sparks are about to fly, Lena has to leave for Hawaii and Barry gets tracked down by the phone sex company (headed by an always great Philip Seymour Hoffman) looking for a sucker to extort. Hilarity ensues.
But not really. The movie isnít about getting the girl or laughing at a pathetic guy who calls a phone sex line for psychological help. Itís about Barry learning that he needs to take things from life and not let life take everything from him. It all starts with a too-good-to-be-true frequent flyer offer through Healthy Choice. If Barry buys enough pudding, he can have free flights for life. The slow, steady growth of Barry into a vertebrate mammal is definitely a rewarding process. Much more so than high school biology.
While this might sound like a teen comedy plot, itís definitely treated more maturely. Director Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, Magnolia) avoids the easy laughs and seems to revel in making both his characters and his audience squirm with discomfort. The scenes with Barry and his family are frustrating beyond belief as you wait for his sisters to realize how absolutely insensitive they are and for Barry to stand up for himself. They donít; he does. Barry starts with buying pudding and ends with demanding dignity all in an hour and a half movie.Sadly one of the films biggest weakness is its running time. It could have been a great 30 minute short but at an hour and a half, it just stretches on for far too long with too little to hold an average personís attention. For this reason I canít recommend it to a typical movie-goer as there are more entertaining and equally interesting films out there. However, if youíre up for a challenge, thereís definitely some pudding-sweet-payoff in Punk Drunk Love.