Punch-Drunk Love

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Punch-Drunk Love
Punch-Drunk Love poster.png
Theatrical release poster
Directed byPaul Thomas Anderson
Produced by
Written byPaul Thomas Anderson
Music byJon Brion
CinematographyRobert Elswit
Edited byLeslie Jones
Distributed by
Release date
  • May 19, 2002 (2002-05-19) (Cannes)
  • October 11, 2002 (2002-10-11) (United States)
Running time
95 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$25 million[1]
Box office$24.7 million[2]

Punch-Drunk Love is a 2002 American comedy-drama film written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, and starring Adam Sandler, Emily Watson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Luis Guzmán and Mary Lynn Rajskub. It follows an entrepreneur with social anxiety in love with his sister's co-worker.

The film was produced by Revolution Studios and New Line Cinema, and distributed by Columbia Pictures. It features the video art of Jeremy Blake in the form of visual interludes. The film received positive reviews from critics, with Sandler's performance receiving widespread acclaim, but fell short of recouping its $25 million production budget at the box office.


Barry Egan is a bachelor who owns a company that markets themed toilet plungers and other novelty items. He has seven overbearing sisters who ridicule and emotionally abuse him regularly, so he leads a lonely life punctuated by fits of rage and social anxiety. One day, he witnesses an inexplicable car accident, picks up an abandoned harmonium from the street, and encounters Lena Leonard, (a coworker of Elizabeth, one of his sisters). Lena had orchestrated this meeting after seeing him in Elizabeth's family picture at work.

Barry goes to his sister's birthday party, where they tease him about his sexuality leading to a serious outburst that leads him to ask his brother-in-law to refer him to a therapist. Instead Barry winds up calling a phone-sex line to cope with his loneliness. But the phone-sex operator tries to extort money from him then sends four henchmen, who are 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 purchasing large quantities of pudding.

When Lena leaves for Hawaii on a business trip, Barry decides to follow her, using his sister to find Lena, who is overjoyed to see him. As the two spend time together, Barry's sister calls Lena, complicating matters, but Lena lies about having contact with Barry, loyally preserving his and their privacy. The romance develops further, leading to Barry's relief from emotional isolation he has endured.

On the return trip, the four brothers ram Barry's car, mildly injuring Lena. After fighting all four brothers off with a tire iron, Barry leaves Lena at the hospital and sets out to end the harassment. He calls the phone-sex line back and finds out the "supervisor" is the owner of a mattress store. Barry drives all the way to Provo, Utah to confront the owner, Dean, face to face. At first trying to intimidate Barry, Dean finds him more intimidating once he learns that Barry has come all the way from California.

Barry returns home and goes to see Lena to explain why the accident happened. He begs for forgiveness, pledging his loyalty and to use his frequent-flier miles to accompany her on all future business trips after his pudding miles are processed. Lena confesses she was more upset at being left at the hospital but forgives him and they embrace happily. Lena approaches Barry, while he plays the harmonium.



After the success of Magnolia, Anderson stated that he would work with Sandler and that he was determined to make his next film ninety minutes long.[3]

In writing the elements of the Healthy Choice frequent flier miles sub-plot line, Anderson was inspired by the real-life story of David Phillips, who successfully amassed over a million frequent flier miles with the same scheme.


Box office[edit]

The film began a limited domestic release on October 11, 2002, grossing $118,539 from five theaters. It went on to gross $17.8 million in the United States, and an international total of $6.8 million, for a worldwide box office total of $24.6 million.[2]

Critical reception[edit]

(L to R) Adam Sandler, Paul Thomas Anderson, Emily Watson and Philip Seymour Hoffman at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 79% based on 194 reviews, with an average rating of 7.43/10. The website's critical consensus states, "Odd, touching, and unique, Punch-Drunk Love is also delightfully funny, utilizing Adam Sandler's comic persona to explore the life of a lonely guy who finds love."[4] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 78 out of 100, based on 37 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[5] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "D+" on an A+ to F scale.[6]

Roger Ebert gave the film three-and-a-half stars out of four. He praised Sandler's performance in his review for the Chicago Sun-Times, saying, "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 can't go on making those moronic comedies forever, can he?"[7] The film came in at #33 in The A.V. Club's "Top 50 films of the '00s".[8]

Sandler went on to win Best Actor at the Gijón International Film Festival for his performance and was also nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy. Anderson won the award for Best Director at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival and the film was nominated for the Palme d'Or.[9] The film was nominated for the Grand Prix of the Belgian Syndicate of Cinema Critics.

Filmmakers Lee Unkrich, Judd Apatow, Kleber Mendonça, Barry Jenkins and Taika Waititi, and actors Bill Nighy, Owen Wilson and Timothée Chalamet have cited it as one of their favorite films.[10][11][12]


Award Category Subject Result
Cannes Film Festival Best Director Paul Thomas Anderson Won
Palme d'Or Punch-Drunk Love Nominated
Gijón International Film Festival Best Actor Adam Sandler Won
Golden Globe Award Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy Nominated
MTV Movie Awards Best Kiss Nominated
Emily Watson Nominated
Toronto Film Critics Association Best Supporting Actress Won
Vancouver Film Critics Circle Best Supporting Actress Nominated

Home media[edit]

The film was released on VHS and DVD by Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment on June 24, 2003.

The Criterion Collection released the film on Blu-ray in November 2016 with a restored HD transfer, the first time the company had done so for Anderson and Sandler. It has behind-the-scenes featurette about a recording session for the film's soundtrack, a Cannes press conference and deleted scenes.[13]


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

The film's score features heavy use of the harmonium. Brion had introduced Anderson to it on Magnolia, and Anderson knew he wanted it to feature heavily in the score.[14] Many scenes between 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. The situation is mirrored in the film.


  1. ^ "Punch-Drunk Love". The Numbers. Retrieved March 8, 2015. Production Budget: $25,000,000
  2. ^ a b "Punch-Drunk Love (2002)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved August 18, 2020.
  3. ^ Patterson, John (March 10, 2000). "Magnolia Maniac". The Guardian. London. Retrieved April 12, 2010.
  4. ^ "Punch-Drunk Love". Rotten Tomatoes.
  5. ^ "Punch-Drunk Love". Metacritic.
  6. ^ "'Drunk' is an odd kind of film classic: Critics adore, fans abhor". Chicago Tribune. November 26, 2002. Retrieved August 18, 2020.
  7. ^ Ebert, Roger (October 18, 2002). "Punch-Drunk Love". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved February 5, 2011.
  8. ^ Murray, Noel; Phipps, Keith; Rabin, Nathan; Robinson, Tasha; Tobias, Scott. "The best films of the 00's". The A.V. Club. Retrieved January 17, 2010.
  9. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Punch-Drunk Love". Cannes Film Festival. Retrieved October 25, 2009.
  10. ^ Goodsell, Luke (June 15, 2010). "Five Favorite Films With Toy Story 3 Director Lee Unkrich". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved February 4, 2011.
  11. ^ Viera, Lauren (July 31, 2009). "Judd Apatow, king of the Funny People". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved July 13, 2013.
  12. ^ Ordona, Michael (November 12, 2009). "Bill Nighy pretty much lived this role". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 13, 2013.
  13. ^ "Punch-Drunk Love". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 2018-10-11.
  14. ^ Chapman, Glen (February 21, 2011). "Music in the Movies: Jon Brion." Den of Geek (DenOfGeek.us). Retrieved January 24, 2016.

External links[edit]