Punch-Drunk Love

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Punch-Drunk Love
Punch-Drunk Love poster.png
Theatrical release poster
Directed byPaul Thomas Anderson
Written byPaul Thomas Anderson
Produced by
CinematographyRobert Elswit
Edited byLeslie Jones
Music byJon Brion
Distributed by
Release dates
  • 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 romantic 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 who falls 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. However, the film was a box office bomb, failing to recoup 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 regularly ridicule and emotionally abuse him, 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 the 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 in which he breaks his sister's sliding glass door. Afterwards, he asks his brother-in-law to refer him to a therapist. Instead, Barry calls a phone sex line to cope with his loneliness. The phone sex operator tries to extort money from him and 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. The romance develops further, leading to Barry's relief from his emotional isolation.

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.



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

After the success of Magnolia (1999), writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson stated that he was determined to make his next film ninety minutes long, and stated that he wanted to cast Adam Sandler in a future film.[3] After establishing his style with his previous films, he wanted to challenge himself within the parameters of a ninety-minute-long romantic comedy.[4] Anderson is a fan of Sandler's films, describing his love for his movies as "obsession-level,"[5][6] and was determined to make a film with Sandler as a lead, saying, "He's always just made me laugh, he gets me, I wanted a piece of him."[4] He specifically wrote Punch-Drunk Love with Sandler and Emily Watson in mind. Anderson had to convince producer JoAnne Sellar, who was "befuddled" with his desire to cast Sandler, that he was the right person for the job.[7] Anderson took inspiration for Barry Egan's characterization from watching the Saturday Night Live: The Best of Adam Sandler compilation DVD, primarily with the skit "The Denise Show,"[8][6] saying,

"I saw this Best of Adam Sandler DVD from Saturday Night Live, and an amazing thing happened. There's this moment when he's doing this talk show called "The Denise Show," about his ex-girlfriend who's left him, and his father calls up and says, 'What are you doing; you're embarrassing the family.' And Adam goes into this fit of rage, screaming at his father, and honest to God I saw this moment where it appears as if the whites of his eyes turn black and they roll back in his head. It was like, he just lost his mind. I would play it back, over and over again, and you can see him kinda snap back to reality. The audience is laughing and it's almost like he finally started to hear them laughing a few seconds later."[6]

Anderson described the film as an "art-house Adam Sandler film," while film critic Roger Ebert felt Anderson "deconstructed the Adam Sandler movies and put them back together again in a new way at a different level."[6] 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 from buying $3,000 worth of Healthy Choice's pudding. Anderson received approval from Phillips and Healthy Choice to adapt Phillips' story into the film.[9]

Filming and editing took place within over a year and a half due to several reasons, such as Anderson scrapping the first two weeks of shooting over fears that he was "making the same movie" as his previous filmography, as well as the threat of Hollywood strikes in 2001 that led to Sandler and Watson filming other projects in between filming Punch-Drunk Love. Anderson also denied more funding from Revolution Studios, as he was determined to keep the film under $30 million in terms of budget.[4]


Sandler shared phone numbers with Magnolia star Tom Cruise when he visited Saturday Night Live during the taping of an episode hosted by Cruise's then-wife Nicole Kidman. While filming Magnolia, Anderson contacted Sandler through a phone call with Cruise and expressed his intention to write a movie for him; despite being unfamiliar with Anderson, Sandler gave his blessing. Sandler was intimidated upon first viewing Magnolia, leading him to be "fucking terrified" and doubt his ability to carry Anderson's next film. Anderson helped alleviate Sandler's fears upon personally being delivered the script.[10] Sandler's casting was officially announced in November 2000; the unconventional pairing shocked reporters as Anderson was a filmmaker on the rise that wrote and directed critically-acclaimed films, while Sandler was known for negatively-reviewed mainstream comedies.[8][11] Aside from the primary named cast, all on-screen actors are non-professionals, which Anderson found more interesting and less complicated.[4]


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]

Adam Sandler's performance as Barry Egan received acclaim and surprised many critics as a departure from his usual film roles. He received a Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy.

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 79% based on 197 reviews, with an average rating of 7.40/10. 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."[12] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 78 out of 100, based on 37 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[13] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "D+" on an A+ to F scale.[14]

Writing for Rolling Stone, Peter Travers felt the pairing of Anderson and Sandler was "parallel lines that meet triumphantly in a mesmerizer that stays true to both of their anarchic spirits," and praised the cast's performances, ultimately calling the film's effect "intoxicating."[15] Angie Errigo of Empire complimented Anderson's direction as "simply captivating and exquisitely controlled, with a restless mood and no end of fascinating, beautifully-orchestrated oddness," and said, "One of the joys of this film...is that you really have no idea what's going to happen next."[16] Daniel Fierman of Entertainment Weekly thought the film was a "meditation on true love, the ways in which we are all bizarre, the magic of the perfect match, and the preposterously unlikely nature of the whole enterprise."[17] The Los Angeles Times' Kenneth Turan stated that the film was "a comedy of discomfort and rage that turns unexpectedly sweet and pure."[18] David Ansen of Newsweek described the film as "a romantic comedy on the verge of a nervous breakdown," praising the film's unpredictability and cinematography, but felt Lena was underwritten, concluding that it was "an emotional jigsaw puzzle that's missing a couple of crucial pieces."[19] Giving the film three stars out of five, Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian felt the story was "deeply unconvincing" and "a short cut to an entirely unearned emotional resolution that doesn't begin to illuminate the jagged and disturbing - and gripping - ideas that swirl around the beginning of this film," and felt the film's core romance was "the most bafflingly unreal love story you can imagine."[20]

Adam Sandler's lead performance received acclaim. Giving the film three-and-a-half stars out of four, Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times praised Sandler's performance in his review, 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?"[21] Errigo called the film "an anti-Adam Sandler movie that proves to be a highly defining moment for the actor" and called Sandler's performance "astonishing."[16] Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman said Sandler was "utterly winning to watch" and added that "he has become a tender and arresting presence, like a fusion of Chaplin’s Little Tramp, Woody Allen, and Edward Scissorhands."[22] Desson Thomson of The Washington Post proclaimed that Sandler gave "the performance of his life" in the film.[23]

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.[24] The film was nominated for the Grand Prix of the Belgian Syndicate of Cinema Critics. The film came in at #33 in The A.V. Club's "Top 50 films of the '00s".[25]

Filmmakers Lee Unkrich, Judd Apatow, Kleber Mendonça, Miranda July, Bong Joon-ho, Guillermo del Toro, Barry Jenkins and Taika Waititi, and actors Bill Nighy, Owen Wilson and Timothée Chalamet have cited it as one of their favorite films.[26][27][28]


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.[29]


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.[30] 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. Archived from the original on July 11, 2020. Retrieved March 8, 2015. Production Budget: $25,000,000
  2. ^ a b "Punch-Drunk Love (2002)". Box Office Mojo. Archived from the original on May 26, 2021. Retrieved August 18, 2020.
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  4. ^ a b c d Turan, Kenneth (May 20, 2002). "Crazy for Love". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 25, 2022.
  5. ^ Barfield, Charles (May 3, 2018). "Throwback Thursday: Paul Thomas Anderson Has An "Obsession" With Adam Sandler's 'Big Daddy'". The Playlist. Retrieved April 13, 2022.
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  9. ^ Puig, Claudia (October 7, 2002). "The proof of 'Punch-Drunk Love' is in the pudding". USA Today. Archived from the original on 2012-05-11. Retrieved 2011-02-26.
  10. ^ Sharf, Zak (October 16, 2020). "'Magnolia' Freaked Out Adam Sandler So Much He Nearly Turned Down 'Punch-Drunk Love'". IndieWire. Retrieved April 13, 2022.
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  14. ^ "'Drunk' is an odd kind of film classic: Critics adore, fans abhor". Chicago Tribune. November 26, 2002. Archived from the original on April 10, 2021. Retrieved August 18, 2020.
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  18. ^ Turan, Kenneth (October 11, 2002). "Isn't It Daringly, Absurdly Romantic?". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 25, 2022.
  19. ^ Ansen, David (October 23, 2002). "Call Him Unhappy Gilmore". Newsweek. Retrieved April 20, 2022.
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  22. ^ Gleiberman, Owen (October 9, 2002). "Punch-Drunk Love". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved April 25, 2022.
  23. ^ Howe, Desson (October 18, 2002). "'Punch-Drunk'? Love It!". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 29, 2022.
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  25. ^ Murray, Noel; Phipps, Keith; Rabin, Nathan; Robinson, Tasha; Tobias, Scott. "The best films of the 00's". The A.V. Club. Archived from the original on January 16, 2010. Retrieved January 17, 2010.
  26. ^ Goodsell, Luke (June 15, 2010). "Five Favorite Films With Toy Story 3 Director Lee Unkrich". Rotten Tomatoes. Archived from the original on September 7, 2010. Retrieved February 4, 2011.
  27. ^ Viera, Lauren (July 31, 2009). "Judd Apatow, king of the Funny People". Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on September 29, 2013. Retrieved July 13, 2013.
  28. ^ Ordona, Michael (November 12, 2009). "Bill Nighy pretty much lived this role". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on September 28, 2013. Retrieved July 13, 2013.
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