The only director who may be as divisive as Wes Anderson is Paul Thomas (P.T.) Anderson. And he’s probably never directed a film as polarizing as Punch-Drunk Love. Everyone was surprised when it was announced he was working on a film set to star Adam Sandler,. What in the world did the director of Boogie Nights and Magnolia want with one of the loudest mouths to come out of Saturday Night Live? What they weren’t expecting, was a typical Anderson film — even if atypically short — and one of Sandler’s best performances. Ever. To this day.
Following up his first three works with There Will Be Blood, The Master, and Inherent Vice, even more surprising is that Punch-Drunk Love is the first Anderson film to get the Criterion treatment. Unfortunately, there is no audio commentary to be found, and I’m not sure the included special features will be enough to suffice hardcore Anderson fans. But the good news is, the film itself looks and sounds as fantastic as you’d expect, and yes, it still holds up too.
For anyone who hasn’t seen Punch-Drunk Love, Barry Egan (Sandler) is a novelty plunger salesman, who also happens to be psychologically disheveled thanks to his gaggle of sisters. They have mentally abused him his whole life — so much in fact that they used to call him “Gay Boy” until he would break something. Despite his violent temper, he’s never hurt anyone. One day his sister Elizabeth (Mary Lynn Rajskub) decides she wants to introduce Barry to her friend Lena (Emily Watson). But fate comes calling, literally, in the form of a money scheming sex phone line run by furniture salesman Dean Trumbell (Philip Seymour Hoffman). And Barry discovers how to score millions of frequent flyer miles as part of a Healthy Choice sweepstakes.
The Criterion Collection releases Punch-Drunk Love on a 50GB disc, framed in a 2.40:1 ratio. Colors have received a huge bump here almost to the point of blooming. Thankfully contrast keeps it from bleeding, but skin tones take a hit and have a bright, pinkish hue. Detail isn’t quite what you’d expect from a 35mm transfer, but it could be due to this being a high-def digital transfer rather than a 2K or 4K scan. As good as the film looks, it always seems as if it could have looked better. At least depth and fluidity are consistent, especially with how many long panning shots are featured throughout. Banding, aliasing, or crush are never present. The English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is the only one provided, with English subtitles available. The sound design holds up better than the picture here with music, dialogue, and sound effects very clean and nothing overwhelming the other. Something that comes in very handy in the few noisier segments.
If there’s one thing lacking in the special features department, it’s Anderson himself. I can’t help but think of how raucous an audio commentary could have been had Criterion gotten Anderson and Sandler back together. The two obviously enjoyed working together immensely — as seen in the “Cannes Film Festival” portion. “Studio Interviews” (7:02) and a “Press Conference” (37:52) features Anderson, Sandler, Watson, and Hoffman — producer Jo-Anne Sellar joins them for the press conference — discuss working together with Hoffman and Anderson talking about their previous joint efforts and Sandler making light of some jabs at him being at Cannes. Two “Deleted Scenes” consists of “The Sisters Call” (7:18) and “Are You From California?” (2:23). Considering how short one is and the other being an alternate version of a scene still in the film, neither are important.
“Mattress Man Commercial” (0:52) is a pretty funny commercial featuring Trumbell and the always hilarious on-camera mishap with him jumping onto a pile of mattresses stacked on a car only to bounce off and onto the pavement. “Blossoms and Blood” (11:58) is a 2002 archival clip with scenes from the movie playing over Jon Brion’s score. “Scopiotones” (6:20) is more of the same. A Play All option is available, and the feature is broken down into 12 sections: “First,” “Harp Finger,” “Punchy Doorbell,” “Mysterio,” “Boy Businessman,” “Healthy Choice,” “He Needs Me,” “Lena,” “Come and Get Me,” “Exit Love Story,” “Sissy Lake’s Love,” and “Waimanalo Walk.”
“Jon Brion” (27:19) is an excruciatingly long interview with the film’s composer. He self-congratulates on how the score came to be and takes time to rag on how bad most film scores are. This was created exclusively for Criterion this year and I can’t help but see why he’s not asked to score more films. A “Recording Session” (9:56) offers a glimpse into the film’s scoring in December 2001 at Abbey Road Studios. It’s far more interesting to see Brion at work than it ever is to hear him discuss his work.
“Jeremy Blake” (20:25) is a filmed conversation between New York gallerist/Participant, Inc. founder Lia Gangitano and Michael Connor, artistic director of Rhizome at the New Museum in New York. The two discuss Blake’s digital artistry displayed throughout the movie and was filmed exclusively for Criterion. While Gangitano and Connor may ramble quite a bit, at least Blake’s art is far more interesting than anything Brion had to say about his own. Three minutes of additional artwork are also included.
Finally, “The Pudding Guy” (5:04) is the original 2000 NBC interview with David Phillips, the civil engineer who purchased around $3,000 worth of pudding to earn over a million airline miles. Yes, this is the story the subplot is based on, and it’s far more interesting than most of the rest of the special features. Three “Trailers” are included: “Theatrical Trailer” (2:27), “Jeremy Blake’s Love” (1:24), and “Eat Tomorrow” (0:33). An illustrated leaflet can be found inside, featuring Miranda July’s essay, “A Delegate Speaks” rounds things out.
Punch-Drunk Love may not be the best P.T. Anderson film, but it is easily his most mainstream. Focusing on a much more relatable subject — love, obviously — but it represents exactly what Sandler is capable of when not just collecting a paycheck. If he would be more willing to work with respectable directors instead of those out of his Happy Madison wheelhouse, he would still be every bit as relevant today as he was during his heyday. It’ll also be interesting to see where Anderson takes himself next after the lackluster Inherent Vice. Hoffman fans can rejoice to see him in one of his funniest roles, even if barely in the movie, while hardcore Sandler fans have another iconic role cemented in high def. Most of the special features are worth skipping over, but Punch-Drunk Love is more than worth revisiting with typically exceptional video/audio quality. While it still is not for everyone, there’s far more here than meets the eye and anyone interested in picking up a copy will not be displeased.