Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000 to 2009.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2002 romance cast a thrilling, intoxicating spell powered by how people navigate the messy first steps on their journey to love. It hearkened back to a semi-screwball, nostalgic notion of amour (right down to brightly colored title credits reminiscent of Saul Bass), only with a decidedly modern spin.
In Billy Wilder’s heyday, Frequent Flier mileage and phone-sex hotlines wouldn’t have worked as plot points. But this feels like the movie Wilder would make if he were alive and hitting his stride today … and able to include liberal, but appropriate, profanity and flecks of violence.
Punch-Drunk Love’s true heart beats with Anderson’s cautious direction of his lead, Adam Sandler. He pulls off the difficult task of subverting Sandler’s onscreen persona of often-funny destructiveness while adhering to its basic popular principles.
Sandler’s Barry Egan is fragile, simple and prone to rage, but when he demolishes something, there’s only wincing, no laughter. But Barry has a shot at a good life with a respectable, albeit strange, novelty plunger business, a sharply tailored suit and a harmonium pushing his orbit toward the intriguing Lena Leonard (Emily Watson).
The same cosmic concepts of chance at work in Magnolia are at play here, and Anderson’s usually expansive approach gets economic here at a cool 90 minutes. This is Sandler’s show, though, and as Barry blossoms, so does he (in one of 2002’s most surprisingly etched performances) into an actor obviously capable of creating a character with which an audience can fully sympathize.