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Punch-Drunk Love (2002) is an American romantic comedy-drama written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, starring Adam Sandler and Emily Watson. Anderson regulars Philip Seymour Hoffman and Luis Guzmán appear.

Sandler won positive reviews for his role in his first major departure from the broader comedies that had made him a star. Roger Ebert wrote in the Chicago Sun-Times that "Sandler, liberated from the constraints of formula, reveals unexpected depths as an actor. Watching this film, you can imagine him in Dennis Hopper roles. He has darkness, obsession and power." He won Best Actor at the Gijón International Film Festival and received a Golden Globe nomination.

The film was produced by Revolution Studios and New Line Cinema, and was distributed by Columbia Pictures; it features the video artwork of Jeremy Blake in the form of visual interludes.


Barry Egan (Sandler) owns a company that markets themed toilet plungers ("fungers") and other novelty items. He has seven overbearing sisters who ridicule him regularly, and leads a very lonely life punctuated by fits of rage. In the span of one morning, he witnesses a bizarre car accident, picks up an abandoned harmonium from the street, and encounters Lena Leonard (Watson), who orchestrated the meeting after seeing him in a family picture belonging to his sister Elizabeth (Mary Lynn Rajskub), a co-worker of Lena's.

Barry calls a phone sex hotline for conversation, but the operator attempts to extort money and sends her four henchmen brothers to collect. This complicates his budding relationship with Lena, as well as his plan to exploit a loophole in a Healthy Choice promotion and amass a million frequent flyer miles by buying large quantities of pudding (based on the true story of David Phillips). After Lena leaves for Hawaiimarker on a business trip, Barry decides to follow her. He arrives and calls one of his manipulative sisters to learn where Lena is staying. At first, Barry explains that he is in Hawaii on a business trip by coincidence, but he soon admits that he came to pursue a romantic relationship.

After they return home, the four brothers ram their car into Barry's, leaving Lena mildly injured. An outraged Barry is attacked by the brothers, one of whom wields a tire iron. With surprising skill, he fights them off despite being outnumbered. He later leaves Lena at the hospital and tries to end the harassment by calling the phone-sex line and speaking to the "supervisor", who turns out to be Dean Trumbell (Hoffman), owner of a mattress store. Barry drives to Provo, Utahmarker to confront him in person.

Barry tells Lena his story and begs her for forgiveness, pledging to use his frequent-flier miles to accompany her on all future trips. She readily agrees, and they embrace happily. The final shot of the movie shows Lena approaching Barry in his office while he plays the harmonium. She puts her arms around him and says, "So, here we go."


  • Barry Egan - A repressed, borderline mentally ill small time businessman, whose passive demeanour hides a rageful personality that can sometimes explode in random bursts of violence. He has been tormented by his seven sisters for much of his life, and this may be the cause of his problems. He has a somewhat perverse way of expressing affection.

  • Lena Leonard - A mysterious character, she becomes infatuated with Barry after seeing him in a photograph alongside his sisters, one of whom is a work colleague. She falls in love with him despite (or perhaps even because of) his unstable personality. She appears to have her own odd way of expressing affection. Relatively nothing is revealed about her life throughout the film, except that she was an only child and has been married once before.

Reception and Criticism

Paul Thomas Anderson won the award for Best Director at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival.

Despite an overwhelmingly positive reception from critics, Punch-Drunk Love was not a financial success in the U.S., where it earned back $17,000,000 of its $25,000,000 budget.

"Paul Thomas Anderson used Sandler for a very specific purpose -to convey a sense of tough-luck awkwardness and smile-masking-frown frustration, and it worked perfectly"-Jordan Hiller from [66674]

Anderson accomplishes in establishing an uncomfortable, and, at times, awkward mood. He sucks the audience into the diegesis, giving the viewer an inside look of Barry's unfortunate life. Because Barry's life is nothing more than average, many people will be able to relate to the character, investing some of their own emotions into the story. Anderson has a wonderful familiarity with framing, as the characters are often put in beautifully constructed frames.

Score and soundtrack

The score to Punch-Drunk Love was composed by Jon Brion. As with the previous film Magnolia, Brion and director Paul Thomas Anderson collaborated heavily for the production of the film's score. However, rather than scoring the film after rough footage had been shot, Brion created compositions during the filming of Punch-Drunk Love. During the scoring process, Brion would experiment with tones and sounds, carefully making note of what Anderson would respond to. Anderson himself would create vocal tempos he would envision in the score and use them on set, even to the extent of inspiring the pace of Adam Sandler's performance.

The film's score features heavy use of the harmonium, an instrument that Anderson knew he wanted in the film before he had even completed the script. Brion introduced Anderson to this instrument and many scenes between Adam Sandler's character and the instrument were inspired by Brion. For instance, Brion once found a harmonium with a hole in its bellows before going on tour with Aimee Mann. To fix the problem, he covered the hole with duct tape. An identical situation is found in the film.

One particular standout track in the film is a version of "He Needs Me" from the 1980 Robert Altman movie Popeye with vocals by Shelley Duvall. The song, slightly rescored by Brion and Jonathan Karp, cues during Barry's trip to Hawaii to meet Lena. The song comes to a climax as they kiss while a crowd passes them by.


  • Working titles included Punchdrunk Knuckle Love, Just Desserts and The X-4 Project. Visually echoing the working title Punchdrunk Knuckle Love, the word "love" appears as a bruise across Barry's knuckles about 1 hour into the film when Barry punches the map in his office over frustration at the news that his frequent-flier miles will not be processed in time to allow him to rendez-vous with Lena.
  • Barry often plays the same five notes whenever he's at the harmonium. The five notes he plays are B, Bb, A, C, and D (in that order). These five notes are heard throughout the film as parts of Jon Brion's score (particularly in "Punch-Drunk Melody", the film's love theme). The notes can be heard in various sound effects (such as in the beeping of a truck's horn in one scene). The five note melody was inspired by Anderson and Brion's mutual affection towards Close Encounters of the Third Kind, famous for its alien five-note melody by John Williams. At the end of the film, Barry plays a melody of C, E and A. These notes make up the chord A minor and are heard as a main theme in the film (notably in Brion's "Here We Go").
  • During the scene where Barry is at the supermarket looking for the cheapest Healthy Choice food item (21 minutes and 30 seconds in), he is being followed by an out-of-focus character in a red outfit. It's Emily Watson's character, before they've been introduced.
  • The scene in which Egan first goes through the supermarket is composed as an homage to Andreas Gursky's photograph "99 cent".
  • The exterior Hawaiian hotel shots, including the promotional silhouette, were filmed at the Royal Hawaiian Hotelmarker, the historic pink hotel on Waikiki beachmarker in Honolulumarker. (The interior shots are not inside the Royal Hawaiian.)
  • The role of Dean Trumbell was originally to be played by Sean Penn, who had to drop out.
  • Anderson originally wanted John C. Reilly to be cast as one of the four blond brothers.
  • Early in the film, Barry says "Business is very food" instead of "Business is very good" and his sister Elizabeth points out his mistake. In the script, "food" was simply a typo Anderson made. Anderson decided to keep it in the film.


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