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Emily Watson, Adam Sandler
Drunk on Adam Sandler and Emily Watson
The unusual pairing of Punch-Drunk Love is a fascinating watch

Aseem Chhabra

Adam Sandler and Emily Watson are two actors who come from worlds as far apart as one can imagine. Brooklyn-born Sandler, a former member of the Saturday Night Live team, has acted in films that critics often hate.

But his films tend to have a huge cult following among college freshmen or young boys in their early to mid-teens. Big box-office comedies with crude sexual innuendos like Happy Gilmore, Billy Madison, Big Daddy, The Waterboy, and The Wedding Singer.

British actress Watson, on the other hand, has acted in critically acclaimed and emotionally intense films that have won top awards at prestigious international film festivals. For her performances in Breaking The Waves and Hillary And Jackie, Watson has earned two Academy Award nominations.

Director Paul Thomas Anderson (winner of the Best Director Award at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival) risked pairing the two in his new film Punch-Drunk Love, making it one of the most astonishing casting stories of our times. The romance and the chemistry between the two actors is the most captivating aspect of Punch-Drunk Love, the centrepiece selection at the 40th New York Film Festival.

The film opens in New York and Los Angeles October 11.

In addition, both actors have made giants leaps out of their cinematic repertoire by acting with Anderson, whose previous works have included the small independent film Hard Eight (with Samuel Jackson and Gwyneth Paltrow), followed by two Academy Award nominated and extremely ambitious ensemble dramas, Boogie Nights and Magnolia.

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Sandler did show his softer side in The Wedding Singer. But towards the end of Punch-Drunk Love, watch him sitting, wrapped in a bath robe, in a hotel bed starring at Watson, you will be surely be reminded of Richard Gere in Pretty Woman or Robert Redford in The Way We Were. Who knew that for all these years, Sandler had been hiding his romantic persona behind that goofy (yet very appealing) smile?

In Punch-Drunk Love, Sandler plays Barry Eagan, a social misfit who runs a novelty toilet plunger business in the San Fernando Valley (Anderson is a Valley boy and his last two films were also set there). Barry's strange personality has so many facets. Dressed in a blue suit throughout the film --- Anderson was inspired by Hollywood musicals of the 1950s where the characters often wore blue suits --- Barry is shy, awkward, obsessive and sometimes driven to violent outbursts.

Andersosn who also wrote the script, was inspired by the story of real life Pudding Guy, a civil engineer at the University of California, who accumulated 1.25 million frequent flier miles by purchasing 12,150 cups of Healthy Choice pudding.

Barry has seven loving and overbearing sisters (Anderson cast mostly non-actors in supporting roles, including two real sisters and their two cousins). When one of them fixes him up with British colleague Lena Leonard (Watson), Barry is suddenly overwhelmed with conflicting and confused emotions.

Adam Sandler
Although clearly attracted to Lena, Barry's life is further complicated by the fact that he has to keep collecting Healthy Choice puddings before someone realises the flaw in the marketing scheme, and that he is being blackmailed by a professional woman with whom he indulged in phone sex. Naturally, it takes him a while before he can fully realise the extent of his love for Lena.

The film is packed with wildly deafening sounds, from that of passing trucks to crashing cars and the rhythms of a street parade in Hawaii. Anderson often has his cast (as in the case of Barry's seven sisters) talk over each other, which leaves some of the dialogue inaudible.

Then there is the music, also playing loudly, often over the dialogues between the orchestral score and songs, including the centerpiece of the film, He Needs Me, performed by Shelley Duvall. The song was originally sung by Olive Oyl (Duvall) to Popeye (Robin Williams) in Robert Altman's Popeye.

Anderson has laced Punch-Drunk Love with some of the brightest colours we have seen in Hollywood films for a long time. This time, his source of inspiration is the Technicolor musicals of the 1950s, An American In Paris or On the Town. He breaks the chapters in the films with psychedelic colours, digital animation created by the artist Jeremy Blake.

The performances are brilliant. Sandler and Watson are at their charming best. Anderson has also cast two of his regulars, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Luis Guzman in supporting roles. Hoffman as the co-conspirator with the phone sex woman is at once frightening and funny.

Punch-Drunk Love does not have the depth and the heart-wrenching emotions of Boogie Nights and Magnolia. But the film's wicked sense of humour and ability to entertain is enough to keep the audiences delighted until the last reel is over.

More on the 40th New York Film Festival:
Finnish director boycotts NYFF
The man who didn't want to know too much
About Schmidt opens to rave reviews

Related Feature:
About Schmidt review

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