THE CURBSIDE CRITERION: PUNCH DRUNK LOVE

(As you may have noticed, it’s holiday season! As a result, Hammer to Nail is going to bust out some reviews of the latest and greatest Criterion Blu Rays as well as re-running reviews and interviews of films that are available now. What better gift than the gift of awesome cinema!?! Next up…the new Criterion Blu of Paul Thomas Anderson’s impeccable Punch Drunk Love.)

What happened to Adam Sandler? Punch-Drunk Love (2002) showcased his ability to break out of his comedy roots, but he has done few dramatic roles since then, preferring to mostly ply his shtick in silly movies like Pixels. That’s a shame because this Paul Thomas Anderson film demonstrated his willingness to take on an unconventional role in a movie that was never destined for major box office success. (And perhaps box office fame is a siren song that Sandler just can’t resist.)

In Punch-Drunk Love, Sandler plays Barry Egan, a salesman of novelty toilet plungers and a brother to seven sisters who are constantly on his back about one thing or another. He tends to deal with his frustrations by losing his temper and breaking things, including a sliding glass door, and he handles his crushing loneliness by calling a phone sex line. He has also figured out a flaw in a frequent-flier miles promotion and has started buying pudding in bulk to take advantage of it.

One day, two things appear in his life: a broken harmonium (a piano-like instrument), which helps calm his temper, and Lena (Emily Watson), who fills that lonely void. However, the woman on the phone sex line he called had attempted to extort money from him, and she has sent four henchmen to forcibly collect the cash from Barry. He uses his frequent-flier miles to get away from them and secretly follow Lena on a business trip. She’s happy to see Barry, but when they return, the phone sex line goons are still looking for him, with potentially tragic results.

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Barry tracks down the owner of the phone sex line, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, and travels to Utah to confront him. Will Lena and Barry’s story adhere to the conventional romantic-comedy paradigm and end up with them living happily ever after? Sure, more or less, but Anderson was determined to conclude this movie with the same ambiguity with which he began it.

This new Criterion Blu-ray of Punch-Drunk Love features a buffet of bonus features that, like the movie, don’t quite explain everything. There’s no commentary here, nor is there a comprehensive making-of piece, but there are some interviews and other interesting bits. Let’s start with what’s new:

A 27-minute interview with composer Jon Brion covers the importance of the score, the harmonium’s role in the movie, and more. Another piece features 10 minutes of behind-the-scenes footage from the 2001 recording session at Abbey Road. In addition, 20 minutes are spent talking about Jeremy Blake, the late artist whose work was used in the film. Art critics Lia Gangitano and Michael Conner offer their thoughts.

Anderson and the main cast members conducted a group interview at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival, and that’s presented here too, along with a Cannes press conference that features them and producer Jo-Anne Sellar. Anderson has been reluctant to talk too much about his movies since Magnolia (including participating in home video bonus features), so he doesn’t reveal much here, nor do Sandler and Watson. Finally, there’s a five-minute NBC News interview with the guy who figured out the frequent-flier miles pudding scheme in real life.

Everything else on this disc was ported from a prior home video release, starting with the 12-minute Blossoms and Blood, a short film with Sandler and Watson that has a similar feel to Punch-Drunk Love while offering a unique story. There’s also a very funny “Mattress Man” commercial featuring Hoffman’s character, along with a pair of deleted scenes from the movie.

Two pieces featuring Blake’s art and a trio of unconventional trailers round out this disc. The obligatory printed piece has an essay by filmmaker, artist, and writer Miranda July.

I’ll close by noting that while Anderson’s involvement in the bonus features is scant, he did supervise a new high-definition digital transfer of the movie.

– Brad Cook (@BradCWriter)

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