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Punch-Drunk Love

(2002, Anderson)
A film with a punctuation symbol in its title

"I'm a nice man. I mind my own business. So you tell me 'that's that' before I beat the hell from you."

Adam Sandler started his career in the late 80s, but it wasn't until the mid-90s that he became a household name through a common schtick that featured him as a mild-mannered man prone to violent outbursts in "hilarious" ways. That's basically the template of films like Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, The Wedding Singer, The Waterboy... and then he met Paul Thomas Anderson.

Punch-Drunk Love follows Barry (Sandler), a "nice man" that happens to be socially awkward, depressed and, well, prone to violent outbursts. Things take a turn when he meets Lena (Emily Watson), the charming co-worker of one of his seven sisters, just as he starts being accosted by a phone sex operator that was trying to extort him under orders of his shady boss (Philip Seymour Hoffman).

There's something magical in seeing a gifted director like Paul Thomas Anderson take someone like Sandler and what might seem like a tired schtick and make something as beautiful as this film. Punch-Drunk Love is an earnest romcom about the magic of two seemingly different people meeting each other and learning to work with the other person's strengths and weaknesses for the benefit of the relationship; which is pretty much what Anderson and Sandler did with this.

There is an undeniable charm and innocence to the relationship between Barry and Lena that's just infectious, and both Sandler and Watson portray that beautifully. Sure, there are some moments when Sandler "let's go", but he never orbits too far from Watson, which keeps his performance reined in. Hoffman's performance is, as is usual with him, brilliant but brief, since Anderson never strays too far from Sandler and Watson.

Although part of me wishes the film could've touched a bit more on Barry's depression, the truth is that Punch-Drunk Love is a really simple film; a delightful one! A nice man meets a nice woman, they fall in love, and when struggles come, he overcomes them by threatening to beat the hell out of whoever tries to mess things up, as the two march together hand-in-hand towards the end... and that's that.