Paul Thomas Anderson has done the impossible; he has written a romantic leading role for Adam Sandler that functions well on a dramatic level. Sandler’s on-the-spectrum character Barry Egan is a bundle of social anxiety thanks to a long history of abusive treatment by his seven sisters. He has a furious temper thanks to his sisters’ relentless bullying about a childhood episode wherein he broke a plate glass door with a hammer in response to their repeatedly calling him “gayboy.”
Note Anderson’s reference to Lina Wertmuller’s film “Seven Beauties” (1975), which follows the wartime adventures of Pasqualino (Giancarlo Gianini), a henpecked Italian dandy who murders one of his sister’s lover. Audiences can have a field day picking out Anderson’s subtle nods to films by other directors (“Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday,” “The Bandwagon,” and “The Graduate” for example), as well as to his own (“Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia”).
“Punch Drunk Love” is a squirmy love story about a guy with a good heart in need of romantic rescue. Anderson’s inspired casting of Emily Watson as Sandler’s savior works like a charm for a minimalist character study with a dash of magical realism. It may only be a minor chamber piece, but “Punch Drunk Love” sticks with you.
Rated R. 95 mins. (B) (Three Stars — out of five / no halves)