As hard as Barry tries to put a gloss on his situation, he's no good at hiding his flopsweat; it's clear to anyone who cares to look that his life is falling apart like the splitting seams on a cheap blue suit. Yet Lena calmly looks past the chaos and likes what she sees, which puts her in a category of female romantic leads that my cohort Nathan Rabin calls the "manic pixie dream girl," after Kirsten Dunst's character in Elizabethtown. MPDGs are whimsical, improbably gorgeous creatures that materialize out of nowhere and are somehow moved to adopt feeble protagonists who are barely holding onto the bottom rung. Where most women would seek romantic fulfillment elsewhere, MPDGs work their rejuvenating charm on broken men, like Will Smith working the hitch out of Matt Damon's golf swing in The Legend Of Bagger Vance. And what do they expect in return? Precious little.

The Lena character really shouldn't work, for the reasons most MPDGs don't work, because she offers up the full force of her charisma (and patience) and doesn't get back what she puts in. Yet the casting here is key: Watson's signature role in Lars von Trier's Breaking The Waves, as a deeply religious woman who devotes herself to her husband with equal fervor, emphasizes her childlike innocence even when it's tarnished by repeated degradation. Watson projects that innocence again in Punch-Drunk Love and recognizes it in Sandler's Barry, which forgives him a lot of sins throughout the film, like when he smashes up a restaurant bathroom on their first date, or abandons her at a hospital to seek revenge on the men who put her there. Their relationship is pure romantic fantasy, but they make an odd sort of sense together. How many other couples could share pillow talk like this?


Not enough can be said about the importance of Jon Brion's score, which is as much a part of the fabric of the film as, say, Philip Glass' music for Mishima or Clint Mansell and the Kronos Quartet's work on Requiem For A Dream. At its most dissonant, like in the clip above where Lena meets Barry at the warehouse, the music threatens to trample the comedy, because the various percussive clangs in Brion's music are violent and arrhythmic, too disturbing for laughs. But I think the lack of laugh-out-loud comedy is a fair trade-off for getting such a strong, visceral impression of what it's like to live in Barry's world, where nothing seems to play in tune. Yet when Barry finally finds refuge in Lena's arms, Brion's orchestration becomes incredibly lush and inviting, as delicate string arrangements overcome the din. The miracle of the score is that it covers such a broad range of emotional territory while still sounding like a single, cohesive piece of music. (Based on this and Jonny Greenwood's There Will Be Blood score, Anderson is clearly in another league when it comes to collaborating with musicians.)


Seeing Punch-Drunk Love didn't turn me around on Sandler, though I acknowledge that the movie wouldn't exist without him. (For comedic rage, he has nothing on Philip Seymour Hoffman, who easily steals the few scenes he's in as the Provo sleazebag behind the sex-chat scam.) I tend to think of Punch-Drunk Love as a movie built less around Sandler the actor than Sandler the cultural phenomenon. Had he been a complete unknown, I don't think the casting would have worked, but in light of Sandler's career playing belligerent juveniles in an adult body, Anderson's stunt pays dividends that wouldn't have been possible with another actor in the lead. It's weird to consider that those precious hours wasted on the likes of The Waterboy and Little Nicky now seem productive, but Anderson comes closer than anyone ever has (or will) in figuring out the Sandler enigma. And that's some kind of achievement.

Coming Up:

Camp Month

Next Week: Wild Things

July 10: Road House

July 17: Manos: The Hands Of Fate vs. Troll 2

July 24: Showgirls