True love is a beautiful thing. It’s beautiful because it’s rare… certainly not as common as Hollywood movies would have you think. Despite that fact, the Hollywood studios have always sold that lie to the public and we eat it up because we want to believe that it’s true, we want to believe that out there in the cold, dark world there’s someone special waiting for us, and that romance is indeed possible.
You believe it. I believe it. We have to because the alternative is too painful to deal with. No one wants to be lonely. We all want to believe that Cary Grant or Irene Dunne is somewhere out there, although the older you get the more you realize that the romantic ideal, especially if you’re a misfit, just doesn’t happen like it does in the movies.
It never has.
In Paul Thomas Anderson’s deliriously romantic 2003 film Punch-Drunk Love, matters of the heart are as intoxicating as anything you’ll find in a vintage screwball comedy or its modern variation, but it’s a whole lot more scary, bewildering, and weird too. Although on its surface the film is as outrageous and absurd as the most fantastical musical, it’s also… realistic in ways these kinds of movies never are. It externalizes what we feel internally when we hover over the abyss that is true romance… it dares to plunge us into the wildness of pure drunken emotion. And it warmly allows its two completely dysfunctional oddball lead characters a chance to shine in roles usually reserved for the personality-free mannequins that uniformly sleepwalk through these kinds of parts.
Punch-Drunk Love is a romantic comedy for people who know movies like this are bullshit.
Barry Egan (Adam Sandler), a Southern California businessman specializing in cheap novelty items, is the kind of guy who doesn’t get a lot of excitement in his life. He doesn’t want a lot of excitement in his life. He’s a businessman and a professional. That doesn’t mean he isn’t bored, however, or that he doesn’t yearn to meet that certain special someone.
He’s just a normal guy.
But Barry isn’t “normal.” None of us really are. Not like those people on television or in the movies. If you are, or you think you are, then there’s something probably wrong with you. Hidden. It means that underneath the façade is a raging weirdo. It means… you’re not comfortable in your real skin.
You’d never think that some people were weirdos underneath. But they are. Unlike Barry, Lena Leonard (Emily Watson) is socially more adept and she hides her inner freak better. She’s shy, though once you get to know her, once she allows you to get a little closer, her laughter and the way she smiles and the way she looks at you and the way she listens to you and the way she talks really gets under your skin.
And though that word… “infectious”… connotes joy as well as unpleasantness, Barry tries not to focus on the negative. It’s a bad habit… something he does too much. Because he’s lonely… because when he’s alone he realizes that he may be alone forever… that he’ll never find real love. And when he’s lonely, which is most of the time, he does stupid things like call phone sex lines and tries to get to know the woman on the other end. He does desperate things like trying to make friends with the lonely woman on the other end. She is lonely, right? If she wasn’t, why would she be working the phone line?
Luckily, Barry met Lena… a real person… a real opportunity… something real removed from the time wasted talking on the phone sex line.
Loneliness is the farthest thing from either of their minds tonight. For the first time in a long while, neither Barry or Lena feel so alone. For the first time in a long time, Barry and Lena both feel like they’re making a real connection with someone else.
It feels good.
It feels special.
It feels like the best thing ever.
It feels like something is blooming…
But things start to go haywire when Lena asks Barry about the “hammer incident”… a story she heard from one of his sisters.
Barry isn’t amused to be reminded about the hammer.
Not like this.
Not from her.
Everything was going so well…
Maybe there’s still a way out of this though.
Maybe this terrible feeling will end soon.
Then everything will go back to normal.
Maybe they can then go back to having a great time.
Then they can believe again that love is possible and that it was the right thing to take a chance…
Instead of feeling like you’re all alone standing along the edge of the cliff… scrambling to hold on…
While the bloom that was once love…
Turns to rage within.
Maybe there’s still a chance to turn it back to something good.
Maybe he can fight his way out.
Or perhaps they should go to a different restaurant instead and try all over again.
The food wasn’t good here anyway.