“Punch-Drunk Love” is a wonderful movie. Billed as a dark comedy, it really is a parable about what family can do to a person.

Barry is the grown-up version of the kid who ate paste in your elementary school. That kid was always picked on, and he ate the paste as a way of expressing and differentiating himself. All of that resulted in a damaged person.


Barry’s problem is that that he has yet to deal with his damaged self. And the damage done to him is so great that he can’t control himself. He is full of rage, and it spills out at the most inopportune moments. Then, there are times when his rage comes out and it fits the situation. But the rage is a constant in his life. 


Barry has a business that sells bathroom novelties. He is the only brother in a family with seven sisters. Seven is a number of completeness, and here the number shows the complete misery these women heap on Barry.


His sister Elizabeth wants Barry to go on a blind date with Lena. Barry balks at the idea, but later does go out with her.


Barry becomes so lonely that he calls a phone sex service. He talks to Georgia and is so out of touch he doesn’t know how the service works. He only wants to talk, and not necessarily about sex. The next morning, Georgia calls back and asks Barry for money. He is so bothered that he calls and cancels his credit card, thus cutting the service out of its fee.


The owner of the service sends four goons after Barry to shake him down for money. Frightened, Barry remembers that Lena is going to Hawaii and decides to get out of town himself.


Interestingly, Barry has discovered a way to redeem Healthy Choice pudding for airline miles. He reads the fine print on the cups of pudding and knows that he can spend a small amount of money and get a great return in miles. The scene where Barry is buying up all the pudding in a store is a sheer delight.  He is finally taking advantage of a situation, instead of the other way around.


Barry goes to Hawaii and discovers in Lena the love of his life. He states that Lena is the love that makes him strong. She becomes a means of making Barry whole; she is a person who can bring some sense and focus to him.


“Punch-Drunk Love” is a wonderful movie. Billed as a dark comedy, it really is a parable about what family can do to a person. We see Barry as a prodigal son who can’t go home because the family, instead of waiting to kill the fatted calf, waits to kill the spirit of the returning child. Barry has rage that is easy to understand, but hard to watch. 


It’s the rage that draws Lena to Barry. She feeds off it because it doesn’t frighten her; it stimulates her. Lena and Barry remind one of Morticia and Gomez Addams. In the second Addams family movie, Gomez and Fester talk about relationships, and Gomez tells Fester he will find a woman one day who will love him and not press charges. Lena is that to Barry. 


Paul Thomas Anderson has crafted a movie that makes us laugh that embarrassing laugh—the kind that comes when we see something we know we must react to but don’t know whether to laugh or cry.


“Punch-Drunk Love” truly captures the soul of a tortured man who finds a love that matters. 


Mike Parnell is pastor of Burgaw Baptist Church in Burgaw, N.C.


MPAA Rating: R for strong language including a scene of sexual dialogue

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Writer: Paul Thomas Anderson

Cast: Barry Egan: Adam Sandler; Lena Leonard: Emily Watson; Dean Trumbell: Philip Seymour Hoffman; Lance: Luis Guzman; Elizabeth: Mary Lynn Rajskub.

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