Punch-Drunk Love Marks 20th Anniversary

Emily Watson and Adam Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love. Courtesy of Sony Pictures.

Punch-Drunk Love, featuring one of the best Adam Sandler performances, marks the 20th anniversary of its theatrical release in 2002.

Barry Egan (Adam Sandler) may be a bachelor and entrepreneur but he suffers from abuse at the hands of his seven sisters. Because of his background, it’s not uncommon for his rage and anxiety to surface. Shortly after we meet him on screen, Barry has an encounter with Lena Leonard (Emily Watson) after she had initially seen his photo at work. It turns out that Lena works with one of Barry’s seven sisters, Elizabeth (Mary Lynn Rajskub). The family abuse only continues when Barry attends a birthday party for one of his sisters. Among the topics that they tease Barry is his sexuality.

While Barry should reach out to a therapist, he calls a phone sex hotline instead. If there’s a list of bad ideas, this has got to be somewhere near the top. He has a growing romance with Lena so there’s no need to contact a hotline for phone sex! It’s only going to come back and haunt him later on because movie law dictates that something bad is going to happen. There’s extortion involved, a trip to the hospital, and later, Barry drives all the way out to Utah to confront phone sex hotline supervisor Dean (Philip Seymour Hoffman) at his mattress store. One way or another, this whole ordeal is going to end here. Regardless, we get a reminder of how much talent we lost with Hoffman’s passing. How these two haven’t gone face to face more is beyond me. Anyway, there’s a happy ending shortly thereafter.

PTA gave himself a lofty goal when speaking with The Guardian‘s John Patterson after the release of Magnolia in 1999.

“Somebody I’d really like to use is Adam Sandler. I just cry with laughter in his movies.” As far as I can determine he’s not being facetious. He also admires Daniel Day-Lewis. “He’s just a powerhouse. All of his films are really solid.” And of his own future? “Images, thoughts, ideas, preliminary stuff. But I’m determined it’ll be 90 minutes. I’m gonna show the whole world…

You certainly couldn’t blame him after releasing a 188-minute epic. PTA lived up to the challenge, turning in a film that’s 95 minutes long with the credits. It’s more of a romantic dramedy but falls under the dark comedy category. Prior to getting the script, Sandler almost turned down the role because of how intimidated he was upon watching Magnolia. PTA had made nothing but critically acclaimed films and well, Sandler was putting out his typical comedy fare at the time. I mean, casting the star of Happy Gilmore and Billy Madison in a PTA film was unthinkable at the time. The end result is a solid pairing, of course, with Sandler delivering the best performance of his career at the time.

I have to be honest in that I wasn’t much of a fan when I first watched Punch-Drunk Love. After all, it was so different from anything I’d seen Adam Sandler do before. It was maybe the first time in his career that he broke away from the comedy performances that audiences were used to. It’s certainly no Happy Gilmore or Billy Madison. After watching Uncut Gems in 2019, I decided that I would watch the film again at some point. That some point is on the 20th anniversary. There’s something about Paul Thomas Anderson, Noah Baumbach, the Safdie brothers, and Jeremiah Zagar in that they’re able to get some of the best performances in Adam Sandler’s career. If you haven’t watched Hustle yet, what are you waiting for?!?

When one stops to think about it, it’s unlikely we get the more recent Sandler performances without Punch-Drunk Love. Punch-Drunk Love marks an evolution in Adam Sandler’s career because it showed that he was capable of more than just the typical comedy fare that he was in at the time. Just over a month later, it was back to the typical Sandler fare with the release of Eight Crazy Nights.

CAST: Adam Sandler, Emily Watson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Luis Guzmán, Mary Lynn Rajskub

Columbia Pictures released Punch-Drunk Love in theaters on October 11, 2002. Grade: 4/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.