Punch Drunk Love – Day Thirty Six – #40movies40days

Punch-Drunk Love _LPunch Drunk Love, another Netflix Watch Instantly selection, is a dark romantic comedy written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson.  It’s a fascinating portrait of a Power of Love protagonist and his Power of Love girlfriend.

Adam Sandler plays Barry Eagan a small business owner who markets themed toilet plungers (“fungers”) and other novelty items. One of his best selling products is a “funger” with dice and shredded money in the clear lucite handle.  It’s a hit in Las Vegas.

Barry has seven overbearing sisters who love him, check on him, try to set him up and ridicule him regularly.  Barry is a nice, quiet, shy, soft-spoken guy who explodes with violent uncontrollable rage on occasion. Barry is a Power of Love character.  This is a Character Type that Adam Sandler plays often.  Carla Meyer writing in the San Francisco Chronicle says:

Sandler is quite winning, but he doesn’t stretch so much as deepen the same character he always plays. “Punch-Drunk” takes the patented Sandler role and strips it of comic accoutrement — the toys, the frat-boy buddies, the sudden riches. Barry is emotionally stunted like the others, just more heartbreakingly ordinary.

Except that he’s got seven sisters, none of whom has any boundaries. As the only boy in the family, he’s been pummeled by their love and their bossiness all his life. They all call him at work and say, “Hi, it’s me,” then hassle him about his love life and his clothes. Sandler shows a lifetime of such treatment in the gingerly way Barry handles his siblings. The audience winces with him when he enters the chaos of a family gathering.

punch-drunk_love-05Power of Love characters are sweet unassuming people, easily put upon because they lack the confidence and self assurance to stand up to others. They believe that if they aren’t hypersensitive to others needs they will be rejected and abandoned. They often have a lot of suppressed anger when they feel they give and give, are taken advantage of or are not fully appreciated.  It’s hard to be “nice” all the time.  Power of Love characters are constant people-pleasers who avoid conflict. The irritations and resentments suppressed can build to the breaking point and explosion occurs.

Roger Ebert writing in the Chicago Sun Times says:

The way to criticize a movie, Godard famously said, is to make another movie. In that sense “Punch-Drunk Love” is film criticism. Paul Thomas Anderson says he loves Sandler’s comedies–they cheer him up on lonely Saturday nights–but as the director of “Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia” he must have been able to sense something missing in them, some unexpressed need. The Sandler characters are almost oppressively nice, like needy puppies, and yet they conceal a masked hostility to society, a passive-aggressive need to go against the flow, a gift for offending others while in the very process of being ingratiating.

Barry unleashes his ingratiating hostility and aggression when he calls a sexy phone chat line for a little companionship and ends up being harassed, followed and beaten– He explodes. Barry fights back with incredible ferocity and tracks his bully to a sleazy mattress store for a strangely aggressive but polite show down.  A good part of why Barry is able to stand up to the bully is his love for and protectiveness of his new girlfriend. (She is hurt in one of the attacks on Barry.)

Emily Watson plays Lena Leonard, another Power of Love character.  She falls in love with Barry when she sees his picture in one of his sister’s office cubicle.  A tryst in Hawaii between the two shy timid people is set to the Harry Nilsson song “He Needs Me” sung by Shelly Duval (orginally featured in the move Popeye.)  This song could be the official Power of Love character’s theme song.  Listen to it here or read the lyrics below:

And all at once

I knew, I knew at once

I knew he needed me

Until the day I die I won’t know why I knew he needed me

It could fantasy oh… or maybe it’s because…

He needs me

He needs me

He needs me

He needs me

He needs me

He needs me!

Da da da da da da da dum dat dat dat da da da

It’s like a dime a dance

I’ll take a chance I will because he needs me….

No one ever asked before, before, because they never needed me

“But I do”

But he does!

Maybe it’s because he’s so alone

Maybe it’s because he’s never had a home

He needs me

He needs me

He needs me

He needs me

He needs me

He needs me!

For once, for once in life I finally felt that someone needed me…

And if it turns out real

Then love can turn the wheel

Because…

He needs me

He needs me

He needs me

He needs me

He needs me

He needs me!

Da da da da da da da dum dat dat dat da da da

The dark side of a Power of Love character is played by Kathy Bates in the film Misery.  James Caan will need her even if she has to break his legs to prove it.

owns a company that markets themed toilet plungers (“fungers”) and other novelty items. He has seven overbearing sisters who ridicule him regularly, and leads a very lonely life punctuated by fits of rageowns a company that markets themed toilet plungers (“fungers”) and other novelty items. He has seven overbearing sisters who ridicule him regularly, and leads a very lonely life punctuated by fits of rage.

Add comment