Friday, February 4, 2022

By By Kat Trout

Paul Thomas Anderson is one of my favorite directors in the industry. Within his slightly-off characters and sweeping California landscapes is an exploration of what makes us human. Part of our experience as people is falling in love. I believe that PTA explores the depths of love in a way that expands on its rawness while also leaving room for individuality. From Inherent Vice (2015) to Phantom Thread (2017) to Licorice Pizza (2021), characters exist so strongly as people in their world that it makes sense for them to fall in love. They aren’t designed to do it– they just happen to. Of all his films, Punch-Drunk Love (2002) is the shortest yet most compelling in the name of love. It celebrates the whimsicality of cinematic love while also exploring how we change for each other. Punch-Drunk Love follows an anxious Barry Egan (played by Adam Sandler, who proves through this role that he is a great actor) in his attempt to create a romance with family acquaintance Lena Leonard. Barry is afraid to love and be loved, so much so that he panic calls a sex hotline. Lena is sweet, normal, and enticed by Barry at first photographic sight. These two should not work— as an audience, we are supposed to ask why. Why does Lena stay with Barry through his chaos? Why does a man so put off by love reframe his mind for her? Why should we believe their love? The answer is that it is PTA’s valley and love can happen to anyone. The strangest people and places are deserving of love. Barry Egan is one of these people– an anxious and insecure man who does not know what it means to be loved. He has been devalued so much by family and experience that he is perplexed by Lena’s attraction. He questions why as much as we do. He falls in love despite himself– he is not emotionally ready, but he cannot let her slip by. She is his chance at the most beautiful human experience– connection. Barry rebuilds himself in the name of honesty and commitment. While he may lie along the way and get pulled into tumultuous situations, he ultimately bares his soul to Lena. He tells her his truth and asks her to love him as he is. We do not need to be perfect for each other– we need to accept our faults and embrace them in our relationships. We need to celebrate what makes us human. We need to be more open and more inviting to those around us. It is exhilarating to confess, yearn, dream, and feel. While Barry and Lena may be signature PTA characters, they are more like us than we think. We must also overcome our minds and succumb to what we do not understand. We must also take risks and grow. When we do, we will be part of something precious. We will be sharing our hearts with another– we will have someone else to help carry the weight of loneliness. To love and be loved is our greatest gift. Punch Drunk Love reminds us not to waste this emotion we have been given.