|Punch Drunk Love (2-Disc Special Edition)|
|DVD Romantic Drama|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 24 June 2003|
“Punch-Drunk Love” is a film of such conscientious intensity and oddness that it develops a weird, unbreakable grip. Somehow, writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson – who usually works on much broader canvases, as with the vast casts and interwoven themes of “Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia” – manages to take the “small film” love story and turn it into something that feels inventive and essential. He also brings out the very best in star Adam Sandler, who gets to display unexpected dramatic chops here simply by putting his outwardly diffident, inwardly seething screen persona in the service of non-farcical material.
Sandler plays Barry Egan, who works at a small Los Angeles company that sets up displays. Barry is outwardly polite if a bit eccentric, but is capable of terrifying rage. When we meet his seven well-meaning but extremely aggressive sisters, we understand some of the pressures in Barry’s life. Then along comes Lena (Emily Watson), a sweet English girl who forms an instant affinity with Barry. Barry falls for Lena – but he’s also fending off the fall-out of a call to a phone sex line owned by Dean Trumbull (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a small-time scam and extortion artist who owns a mattress shop in Arizona. Dean seeks to blackmail and intimidate Barry, who is scared … to a point.
One of the pleasures of “Punch-Drunk Love” – and there are many – is that Anderson’s script never entirely goes in the directions we expect. There are odd little flourishes and curlicues in the scenes and characterizations. Given a character in a skewed but generally realistic context, Sandler is a revelation, completely embodying a good-hearted, somewhat disturbed person who seems thoroughly true to life. Watson’s luminous warmth makes her so delightful that we can just about buy her too-good-to-be-true Lena. Hoffman as the sleazy yet easily affronted Dean makes us feel that we know this guy’s entire history – he’s completely authentic and surprising. A special feature – the D&D Mattress Man commercial – shows just how thoroughgoing a pro Hoffman is, as the camera records a potentially catastrophic accident befalling the actor during a take, who recovers and calmly asks whether the shot worked and if they’ll be doing another one.
The “Punch-Drunk Love” DVD is in the Superbit format, which means that the picture and sound for the film itself are brilliant. The liner notes in an accompanying booklet exhort the viewer to make the most of this: “Get Barry’s suit blue, blue blue,” it urges. “Don’t be shy. Get Barry’s shirt white. Don’t be afraid to let it bloom a bit. Turn up the contrast! Make sure your blacks are black and listen to loud!” My monitor handled the sometimes dramatic, sometimes nuanced contrasts in hue admirably, though I refrained from going for blooming whites.
In Chapter 1, the mere raising of a vertical metal door creates an almighty sound that contrasts (like the hero’s moods) with the beautifully subtle pink-and-blue dawn breaking over the alley. We are shocked by the volume and dimension as a car suddenly flips and rolls left to right through the speaker system. In Chapter 2, the benefit of the Superbit video is underscored by the easy distinction between Barry’s jacket, which is a blue that nearly matches a special-effects screen, and a very slightly darker shade of blue on the wall behind him – jacket and wall remain separate entities at all times. Chapters 2 and 3 bridge with a wonderful, unconventional sound effect as Barry runs up the street carrying a harmonium in his arms. The strings and hammers chime as we hear the hard slap of his shoe leather on the pavement and the raggedness of his effortful breathing.
Chapter 4 features a very powerful sound of shattering glass, while the DVD’s visuals again distinguish themselves in a sequence set in a supermarket. The ceiling lights are in rows, but there is no fragmentation or glitter – the image remains perfectly distinct. There are beautiful interstitial effects between scenes of glowing pinks, reds and blues in abstract patterns. Skin tones seem a bit reddish in Chapter 8, but the costume hues are perfect in Chapter 9. Chapter 12 features a very naturally arrived-at yet thoroughly stylized black-and-white film noir effect as Barry races through an alley with giant shadows cast on the surrounding buildings, while we hear an enveloping, ominous rumble from each speaker. Chapter 14 features some gorgeous magic-hour lighting, although the “He Needs Me” song on the soundtrack, which crops up again later, can be a bit grating.
In Chapter 2 and on the other hand that so many bits have been devoted to all the additional picture and sound information that there’s no room left on the film disc for extras. The two-disc special edition has, as advertised, a second disc, but the bonus features on Disc 2 are as odd as the film itself, without being as engaging. In addition to the Mattress Man commercial, which does qualify as must-see material, there is a 12-minute short, “Blood & Blossoms,” which rather resembles a long-form music video with scripted sequences that overlap with the film’s action. Anderson directed and Sandler and Watson star. There are also 12 “Scopitones,” which likewise seem to be alternate takes and unused material, bound together by the kind of incandescent colors that appear in the main feature. We don’t get a conventional making-of, let alone a commentary track. The upshot is that the special features disc is for people who haven’t gotten quite enough of the film itself and would like more of the same – anyone who wants to learn about the making of the film by means other than studying it will have to go elsewhere. The liner notes state that it’s possible to watch the extras in random order by clicking on the “Punch-Drunk Love” option on the special features disc.
“Punch-Drunk Love” is subversive, quietly intelligent and deftly draws you in, so that you feel just a little disoriented when it’s over and you’re returned to your real life. It’s truly engrossing filmmaking, brought to the home theatre on a disc with genuinely vivid picture and sound. It is absolutely recommended.