Barry Egan (Adam Sandler) leads a solitary existence in order to hide his self-hatred, and his violent outbursts. Constantly harangued by his 7 sisters and too insecure to ever stand up for himself, Barry has no coping mechanisms and no healthy relationships. But then he starts collecting pudding. It’s only half as strange as it sounds: he discovers a contest loophole where if he buys an enormous amount of pudding, he gets to fly for free. This is the only bright spot in his world of self-loathing until two people pull his life in different directions.
The first is Lena (Emily Watson), a quiet but sweet woman who seems to genuinely like him despite his obliviousness, and let’s be honest, his weirdness. Her tenacity entices him outside of his shell and things are actually looking up until “Georgia”, a phone sex operator, begins extorting him for all he’s worth.
When Paul Thomas Anderson announced that his follow-up to Magnolia would be “an Adam Sandler comedy”, it was greeted with laughter. When Punch-Drunk Love premiered at Cannes, however, Anderson won the Palm d’Or for directing, and Sandler would go on to be nominated for a Golden Globe. Anderson had become somewhat known for his multi-character films and wanted his next work to subvert expectations, and boy did he. He was the first director to cast Adam Sandler and expect great things from him. He gave him real material to work with and Sandler rose to the occasion.
Punch-Drunk Love is a strange little film, even among PTA cannon. It’s gorgeous to look at, completely saturated in brilliant colour schemes emphasized by director of photography Robert Elswit’s use of film stock that allowed him to shoot in underexposed conditions, giving greater depth to the film’s shadowy look.
The sound of the film is distinguished too: Jon Brian composed the music during the film’s music. The score’s unusual tones and sounds would then be played on set, influencing the atmospheric tone of the film. Anderson brought it Gary Rydstrom on sound mixing, an atypical move as Rydstrom, the chief sound editor for Pixar, normally works on big special effects movies, like Spielberg’s Jurassic Park and Saving Private Ryan. All of these abnormal pieces form a whole that’s off-kilter and intoxicating.
And while I could go on all day about my love for PTA, you’ve probably noticed by now that this series is about one thing: Hawaii. Sean and I are in Hawaii, so I’m writing about movies who shot there, and earlier when I said that Barry bought a lot of pudding in order to see the world? The first place he goes is to Hawaii. His Hawaiian trip, inspired by love, is the first self-actualized thing he does for himself. The framing and composition open up as Barry steps outside of his comfort zone, and the confines of his loneliness. Barry is often shown wearing blue, a blue boy wearing his depression, but in Hawaii, pink becomes the colour of prominence, the colour of sweetness, empowerment, and romance. It literally chases the blues away. Although, to be fair, I think Hawaii has the tendency to do that for everyone.