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Tuesday, 11 February, 2003, 17:04 GMT
Punch Drunk Love
Newsnight Review discussed the new film starring Adam Sandler and Emily Watson

(Edited highlights of the panel's review)

Mark Kermode, it's a strange film this. Let's try to explain some of it.

A man who is collecting thousands of puddings in order to accumulate air miles, but is being blackmailed by a phone sex company, meets a friend of one of his seven sisters and falls in love with her.

Yeah, that's just about as close as you'll get to a plot synopsis. I think it's a wonderful, wonderful piece of work.

It's a film by Paul Thomas Anderson, who builds his films musically, which is one reason why, when you describe them in terms of plot, they actually don't make any sense.

Just from that clip there, you could hear how much was going on in the soundtrack, almost intruding on the dialogue. I mean the sort of, the mania of this character is very much expressed by the musical soundtrack.

To me the genius of what he's done is - it's a psychotic love story.

He's taken Adam Sandler, who I happily would have had tried for crimes against cinema for the hideous comedy movies he's made, the thing I always hated about him was I don't see a grown man finding the things he finds funny, funny. I find it sinister.

And what he's done is said fine, the sinisterness of that character is the centre of this character here, Barry Egan.

This person who's actually like a child, but a dangerous child. He meets Emily Watson, who up until now has suffered admirably in movies like Breaking The Waves, which I absolutely loathe, and has put her in opposite Barry Egan.

But she looks childlike, but she is every bit as dangerous and psychotic and twisted as he is. There are these two mad people joined together, and they're joined together musically.

There's a theme song, which comes up, which is He Needs Me, which of course is Shelley Duvall in Popeye. And suddenly you realise it's Popeye and Olive Oyl, and they are two cartoon characters living in this musical world, which he has entirely constructed for them.

It's an incredibly brave movie, because what it does is it takes a love story and turns it almost into a virtual murder mystery. It doesn't at any point, unbalance those two characters, but it shows you things about them, that you would never expect to see in a movie that's that short.

I simply think it's one of the best movies I've seen in years, and I would say it's only February, but at the moment, a strong contender for film of the year.

The film is so far seen as a witness protection scheme for actors who Mark Kermode used to want to kill. Miranda Sawyer.

Well I have to say I'm not quite as enamoured really. I went in and I thought "Ooh, fantastic! This is going to be great! Paul Thomas Anderson, great!"

And it sets up this fantastic plot. The acting's great, it's hilarious. There's loads of wit. Then it just completely crumbles.

Nothing happens. You know, it sets up these fantastic scenarios, and then throws them away.

It throws away Philip Seymour Hoffman, to me, as far as I'm concerned, it throws away Emily Watson. She doesn't do anything.

You have this brilliant idea, well not a kind of like loads of ideas going on at the same time to do with privacy, loss of privacy and loneliness, to do with lots of people all being around you, controlled anger, anger expression.

Loads of things going on, the music is fantastic. It's beautifully shot. When you're in the supermarket it looks like those Andreas Gursky things - it's amazing.

And then it just all, it crumbles into dust. It's flimsy. It doesn't get me at all.

But Miranda, does it though. Because I thought that, I've seen it twice now, it's actually very carefully structured, I thought.

For example, you have the central character. He thinks that he's spotted a scam, that he can get all these air miles, but in fact a scam is being worked on him.

There are probably two sado-masochists. Everything starts to double up.

What's it's about is that love is this kind of ridiculous, random, mad thing that happens to people. So he puts other things around it - violence, and other bizarre happenings.

Well maybe I need to see it twice. Because the first time, I mean I just was left completely cold. I like, you know, what I liked about his other films is that they get you, you know. They get you and then they spin you around and they hit you here. And there I was left nothing, you know. Just a few little laughs.

That is exactly what Punch-Drunk Love did to me. I mean literally grabbed me and, you know, put me through the mincer and threw me out the other end. In terms of Emily Watson not having anything to do, Emily Watson does a fantastic performance, which I think has been largely overrated because she's not given a massive amount of dialogue.

"Largely overrated"? No, you mean overlooked.

What she's asked to do is to make childlike innocence dangerous. And, how can you say that nothing happens in a film in which the central love film, consists of two people in bed and one of them says, "You're so cute I want to scoop your eye balls out and eat them." And the other one says, "Your face is so beautiful, I want to smash it with a hammer." That's something happening!

That's your idea of a Valentine's Day card.

I think all of you guys are being too heavy about this film. I think this is a doodle.

This is a very young film maker. He's brilliant, he's working out all his little themes. That's why it's short, he's playing around with it. He's matching up, for instance, the seven sisters if you look at them, they all have noses like Adam Sandler, the brothers.

He's playing with his images, he's playing with colours, he's playing with themes, he's just having a good time. He's laying back like a musician does in the cut, to see how all these things will work until he does his next big picture.

I think it was just ice cream. Yeah it's ice cream, it's a fabulous 90 minutes, and that's all it is.

Mark, it's interesting what you said about the performances because having used Tom Cruise in Magnolia, he clearly likes to use different types of actors. So he has the Philip Seymour Hoffman type, independent actor, and then he takes a mainstream star and mixes them all up.

Well what he does is, you know, there is a little raft of people that he works with, you know, again and again.

But there are also, he has like, for example casting Burt Reynolds in Boogie Nights. You know, Burt Reynolds, who at that point was generally considered to be a joke, suddenly casting him.

Also casting Mark Wahlberg who nobody would have taken seriously as a leading man until Boogie Nights came along.

I think the genius of what Paul Thomas Anderson does is, you know, partly in the casting and partly in the scoring. If he gets the cast right and the score right, the rest of the movie fits into place.

I don't think that just because it's beautiful and entertaining and absolutely like the kind of movie that you want to take home and introduce to your parents, means it's light.

No I didn't mean it. That's not an insult to say it's a light movie. It's not a put down. This man is so confident as a film maker, he's an epic film maker.

He can actually make a movie that he's working things out on and sell it to us, give it to us and just let us talk about it and then wait while he's working out his next one.

But you're seeing it as a stop gap. It's not a stop gap.

It's not a stop gap. It is part of his development that is nowhere near Magnolia or Boogie Nights, but it's not intended to be. It doesn't mean anything.

I think it is. I think it's up there with them. GREER:
It's ice cream, it's total ice cream.

If anyone gets Valentine's Day cards saying they want to scoop your eye balls out, it's from Mark Kermode or Paul Thomas Anderson, whose Punch-Drunk Love opens at cinemas around the country today.

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