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Film / Punch-Drunk Love

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"You can go places in the world with pudding."

"I have a love in my life. It makes me stronger than anything you can imagine."
Barry Egan

Punch-Drunk Love is a 2002 dark romantic comedy-drama film written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, starring Adam Sandler, Emily Watson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Luis Guzmán, and Mary Lynn Rajskub.

The film tells the story of Barry Egan (Sandler), a sweet-natured but socially inept and introverted manchild whose life revolves around his novelty plunger business ("Fun-gers") and attempts to extricate himself from the domineering influence of his seven sisters. His interests mainly include buying up large quantities of pudding to take advantage of their company's air miles offer and using phone sex lines to alleviate his loneliness.

Then one day, Lena Leonard (Watson) walks into his life, and everything changes.

Punch-Drunk Love is notable as one of P.T. Anderson's low-key works, made between the epics Magnolia and There Will Be Blood, and for showcasing the dramatic chops of Adam Sandler while simultaneously being a warped postmodern take on the rom-com.

This Film Contains Examples of the following tropes:

  • Anticlimax: Barry is frantically (and painfully) running from the Four Blonde Brothers when they drive past him and casually remind Barry that they know where he lives. Barry stops running after this. They show up later and crash his car. Barry gets out and quickly beats them up, smashes their truck with a crowbar, flies to meet their boss, and gets him to back down. In the words of the Mattress Man, "That's that."
  • Apologises a Lot: Barry, and frequently when he's not even done anything wrong.
  • Bad Liar: Barry. And he tells a lot of them (specifically when he has done something embarrassing).
  • Berserk Button:
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Barry is fundamentally a really sweet-natured and caring person but he is capable of some truly frightening displays of rage and aggression.
  • Big Bad: Dean "The Mattress Man" Trumbell arguably acts as one for Barry, with his threats and attempted extortion of Barry jeopardizing his relationship with Lena and providing much of the tension in the movie.
  • Big Brother Bully: Barry's sisters are absolutely horrible to him and he understandably can barely stomach being in their presence.
  • Big "SHUT UP!": The Mattress Man lets out a series of almighty ones to Barry over the phone when he reaches his wit's end.
  • The Big Damn Kiss: When Barry goes to see Lena in Hawaii and has to go through several hoops to get to see her - something Lena probably realizes even beyond the thrill that the guy she's interested in actually took an unexpected and expensive trip to see her - he finally tracks her down at her hotel - and walks forward to shake her hand, not remembering or realizing that they're *way* past casual social niceties - and this trope happens.
  • Bullying a Dragon:
    • The Mattress Man threatens Barry over the phone, AFTER knowing Barry has dealt with the brothers single-handedly, clearly not expecting to ever have to confront him in person. He does.
    • Several scenes make pretty clear that Barry's sisters are playing a pretty dangerous game by constantly bullying their brother. Thankfully, the one time he lets go of a violent outburst around them he limits himself only to property damage (which still get a frightened "Barry, what the FUCK?!?" out of them).
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: The Four Blonde Brothers make good on their threat and assault Barry at his home, crashing his car and injuring Lena. As the Brothers get out of their pickup brandishing a crowbar, Barry steps out and buttons up his suit. What follows can't even be charitably called a fight. In less than thirty seconds, three of the brothers are lying injured on the ground and the fourth is cowering with abject terror in the backseat of the pickup, which has its windows smashed by Barry, now wielding the brother's own crowbar. It happens so quickly it can even be considered an Anti-Climax (see above).
  • Cannot Spit It Out: Lena has to take the initiative. A lot.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Double subverted in the case of Barry's accumulation of frequent flyer miles by collecting pudding cups. Barry was going to use them to meet with Lena at Hawaii but had to improvise because it took six to eight weeks to redeem them. At the end of the film, he basically suggests he's going to use them to be with Lena while she's travelling.
  • Classical Anti-Hero: Barry is lonely, socially awkward, plagued with self-doubt, and gets horribly upset at the drop of a hat. Through the events of the film, he works towards overcoming these issues while fending off a gang of con artists.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Most of Mattress Man Dean's dialogue when he's not shooting ads.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: See The Power of Love.
  • Darker and Edgier: Easily Adam Sandler's darkest film at the time it was released.
  • Deconstruction: The movie takes the typical Adam Sandler character found in Billy Madison or Happy Gilmore and deconstructs him by showing the real-life consequences of his behavior and how dangerous that person would feel to you if you actually met one. It also touches on the horrible upbringing that would create such a maladjusted person in real-life.
  • Deconstructed Character Archetype: A borderline-Psychopathic Manchild as played by Adam Sandler for most of his career isn't a cool fratboy to be friends with In-Universe, or even someone that is funny to behold — he's outright terrifying and at best still makes one bellow out a "what the FUCK is wrong with you?!?"
  • Determinator: "I'd say, 'That's that', Mattress Man."
  • Dirty Coward: Dean, the Mattress Man, is very full of himself over the phone and when he has his mooks around. When Barry has him cornered, he reveals himself to be a slimy, pathetic coward.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Barry, to both his sister Elizabeth when he's in Hawaii, and to The Mattress Man and his toadies.
  • Dream Melody: The five note descending melody which pops up repeatedly on the soundtrack is actually played by Barry on the harmonium at one point.
  • Evil Counterpart: Dean the Mattress Man has serious anger issues just like Barry.
  • Florence Nightingale Effect: Part of why Lena seems so besotted with Barry is that he's so helpless. Lampshaded by the soundtrack with the song "He Needs Me."
  • Freudian Excuse: A lot of Barry's mental and anxiety issues stem from his relationship with his older sisters, who are simultaneously dominating, overbearing, and cruelly bullying.
  • Funny Background Event: When Barry is talking to his third sister, you can see his second-in-command bashing a Funger in order to show it off to a customer.
  • Gainax Ending: Inverted with a Gainax Opening. The movie opens with Barry on the phone talking about the frequent flier miles promotion while random sounds are playing in the background. He opens the warehouse door, stands in the parking lot, witnesses a random car crash, then a group of men in a van pull up and drop off the harmonium. The film becomes more normal from there.
  • Homage: The soundtrack contains the song "He Needs Me" from Robert Altman's Popeye film. Also, the supermarket where Barry shops bears a remarkable similarity to the supermarket photographed by Andreas Gursky in his picture ''99 Cent''.
  • Hypocritical Heartwarming: Despite how much Elizabeth browbeats Barry, down to outright calling him a freak, she still gets defensive when Lena calls him strange.
  • Hypocritical Humor: The Mattress Man and his gang consistently call Barry a "pervert." You know, for calling a phone sex line that they operate.
    • It's implied to be a trap for blackmailing people out of money. It seems they feel justified in their actions due to their victims being pervs.
  • Iris Out: A particularly sweet example, as the Iris centers on Barry and Lena's hands clasped together and actually follows it as they disappear around a corner.
  • Jerkass: The Mattress Man, and Barry's sisters—most notably Elizabeth.
  • The Klutz: Barry's not only clumsy, but accidents also seem to happen just by virtue of his presence.
  • Leitmotif: Barry and the harmonium.
  • Limited Wardrobe: Barry wears the same blue suit throughout the entire film despite spanning more or less about a week.
  • Massive Numbered Siblings: Barry has seven sisters.
  • Mickey Mousing: At one moment, Barry plays one of the leitmotifs on the harmonium.
  • Mugging the Monster: When assaulting him at his house, one of the Four Blonde Brothers smirks as Barry advances and can be heard saying "C'mere." Big mistake.
  • Nice Guy: For all his mental issues, Barry is a sweet-natured and caring person.
    • His brother-in-law Walter is also a nice guy. He doesn't get mad at Barry for smashing his windows and when Barry asks for help, he is more than willing to give him a number for a psychiatrist.
  • No Social Skills: Barry often has trouble communicating with others, and it only gets worse when his sisters are there. Lena is rather awkward too, but not nearly to the same extent as Barry.
  • Not Distracted by the Sexy: Barry isn't turned on by the phone sex hotline he dials, despite repeated, overt attempts from the woman on the other line to get him horny. He just wants someone to talk to.
  • Open Heart Dentistry:
    Barry: I wanted to ask you something because you're a doctor. I don't like myself sometimes. Can you help me?
    Walter: Barry— I'm a dentist.
  • Paper Tiger: Dean, the Mattress Man. He's tough and threatening when surrounded by and working through his mooks, and even keeps his smirk as he's acceding to Barry's demands to leave him alone. But when he decides to get the last word in, and Barry doesn't react well, he basically folds:
    Dean: Now get the fuck outta here, pervert!
    Barry: (starts to walk towards Dean, pointing at him) Didn't I warn you?!
    Dean: (alarmed) Th-that's that! (scurries away)
  • The Power of Love: Enables Barry to become a total badass.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: Although he's far from villainous, it's clear that Barry has unresolved emotional problems that cause him to lose his temper. One of the movie's primary themes is demonstrating that in real life, this kind of typical early Adam Sandler character would make you fear for your life.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: Barry's Pudding/Frequent Flyer Miles plan was based on an article P.T. Anderson read in Time Magazine about a civil engineer called David Phillips who did pretty much the same thing as noted here.
  • Shared Family Quirks: Constantly apologizing is a trait Barry shares with his sister Elizabeth, as she apologizes multiple times to Lena for Barry's "weird" behavior. note 
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Very optimistic.
  • Smug Snake: The Mattress Man. Likewise, the Four Blonde Brothers have insufferable smirks whenever they deal with Barry, and even when assaulting him it's clear they don't take him seriously. They painfully learn what a mistake this is.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Barry in his second run-in with the Mattress Man's gang. Lena getting injured might have something to do with it.
  • Tranquil Fury: Barry dealing with the Mattress Man's mooks.