Punch Drunk Love  directed by  Paul Thomas Anderson (2002)

After recently being reminded of  the brilliance of Magnolia, I was curious to see this movie which director Paul Thomas  Anderson made a couple of years later and before his equally masterful There Will Be Blood

It was a bit of a let down in that it shows all the signs of having been made while suffering from a mighty hangover.

After the complexity of Magnolia’s interwoven plot lines and ensemble cast, not to mention the epic three plus hour length, I can’t blame Anderson for wanting to take on an idiosyncratic love story which is both simpler and shorter.

Of course, Anderson’s idea of a simple tale doesn’t mean this is by any means a conventional comedy-dram. He is an original talent who is not interested in telling a straight  narrative without going off at a tangent. I admit that usually like this kind of stuff but I just found the movie more irritating than inspired and can’t help feeling it would have worked best as an out-and-out screwball comedy.

The arty post-modernist touches of Punch Drunk Love seem to be clumsily tagged on to add quirky eccentricity. The seriously intrusive soundtrack by Jon Brion was also a major turn off.

The plot is fairly straightforward but mostly implausible and begs more questions than it can be bothered to answer.

Why, for example, does someone leave a harmonium in the middle of the road and why does Lena (Emily Watson) have such a crush on the  dysfunctional Barry (Adam Sandler).  I know love can be blind but there is a limit.

At his most vulnerable, Barry/ Sandler  makes you think of  Jerry Lewis (minus the silly voice) and maybe we are supposed to believe that he would appeal to her maternal instinct.

Lena’s a little screwed up herself and there are hints that she’s also been screwed over in her previous relationships. But this, in a logical world (which is not one this movie has too much regard for), would surely mean she’d be doubly on her guard when confronted by the fairly obvious signs of weirdness.

Barry is someone so plainly in need of psychiatric help that it beggars belief that she would be oblivious to this fact.  He is plainly more than just a man-child, being tempted by phone sex and prone to violent mood swings that involve him punching out at the nearest wall or, in one scene, smashing up a restaurant’s rest room.  Admittedly, we see all this and she doesn’t but he is goofy enough to make any sensitive female suspicious.

The movie does have its moments; Philip Seymour Hoffman as the seedy boss of the phone sex company is excellent and Barry’s battles with his seven manic sisters are fun.

If you check out the Metacritic reaction, you will find that this is a movie that most critics admire but the (usually more reliable) barometer of the general public shows viewers divided between those who regard it as some kind of masterpiece and those who think it’s the biggest pile of horse shit they’ve ever witnessed.

I think I’ll sit on the fence but if push came to shove I’d probably end up on the side that doesn’t smell so sweet.