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Monday, 14 October 2013

Punch-drunk love: Rethink Paul Thomas Anderson

I saw "Punch-drunk love" last night. 
Apparently I was over-enthusiastic the other day when writing about "Magnolia" and calling Paul Thomas Anderson the best director of his generation. Now I'm not sure. Put it this way: 
1/ I still think Paul Thomas Anderson is a very talented director, especially good at getting the best performances from actors. 
2/ It's also undeniable that he's a true auteur. He directs and writes his own screenplays and has artistic control, and above all, he has a distinct style, like Stanley Kubrick, Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, Coen brothers, Tim Burton, Wong Kar-wai... Directors like David Fincher, Clint Eastwood, Jim Sheridan, David O. Russell, Sidney Lumet... don't really have a style (though I do like them).
3/ I don't change my opinion about "There will be blood" and "Magnolia", his 2 best films. "There will be blood" is exceptionally great, albeit dry, which deals with 2 opposing forces- 2 men represent the negative side of materialism and of religion. Daniel Plainview is 1 of the best characters in cinema. While he is seen by some people as a villain, an evil, heartless, brutal person, to me, he's in many ways a Travis Bickle. But differences in opinions, and disagreements, are fine, they show that Daniel Plainview's a fascinating psychological study.
[And obviously, one cannot overlook Daniel Day-Lewis's role in making that character on paper come alive]. 
Yet "Punch-drunk love" is a silly film. I know it's 79% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes but to me it's rotten. It's a romantic comedy that is neither romantic nor funny.
a) Details like the puddings and the harmonium may seem cool but they're pointless. 
b) In some scenes the music really bugs me. I can't find it among the soundtracks, but it's the background music when Lena is introduced to Barry by his sister while he's panicking about and annoyed with something else. It really bugged me.
c) The film fails to explain why Barry and Lena are attracted to each other, especially on Lena's side. I understand that Barry's lonely and shy and nervous with tons of personal problems, but I don't see what Lena sees in him. If Paul Thomas Anderson means that Lena finds Barry quirky but cute, I don't see it. The love story doesn't make sense. And the scenes when they're being together, even when Barry travels to Hawaii just to be with her, or when he admits is, aren't romantic.
d) There's no chemistry between Adam Sandler and Emily Watson. 
e) The 'solution' to the phone sex hotline is silly. 
(And what's the significance of Dean Trumbell? So that Philip Seymour Hoffman has a role in this film?) 
The best scenes in "Punch-drunk love" are at the beginning, when one sees Barry and starts to see what kind of person he is and what problems he has.
f) After all I don't know what Paul Thomas Anderson wants to say. That, like Barry says, "I have a love in my life. It makes me stronger than anything you can imagine."? 
"The master" has that same flaw. It has rich material and very good characters and mesmerising performances by Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman and a fascinating relationship or bond (between the master and the 'masturbator'), but in the end I feel uncertain what Paul Thomas Anderson really wants to say. I don't mean a moral lesson, a so-called message. But if you have nothing to say and make a film for no reason, why make it? 
In short the film is hollow. Or, like a critic put it, "All those whacky ideas surround an empty or non-existent centre." 
So now I rethink my praise. "There will be blood" and "Magnolia" are much better and have much greater depth than Christopher Nolan's best films, for example, yet on the other hand Christopher Nolan hasn't made an absolutely pointless and ridiculous one (if he has, like "Following" or "Batman begins", I haven't watched them). 
Oh well...

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