Punch-Drunk Love

Punch-Drunk Love is a 2002 American black comedy-drama romance 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 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, but failed to recoup the $25 million production budget at the box office.

Punch-Drunk Love
Punch-Drunk Love poster.png
Theatrical release poster
Directed byPaul Thomas Anderson
Produced by
Written byPaul Thomas Anderson
Music byJon Brion
CinematographyRobert Elswit
Edited byLeslie Jones
Distributed by
Release date
  • 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]


Barry Egan is a single man who owns a company that markets themed toilet plungers and other novelty items. He has seven overbearing sisters who ridicule and emotionally abuse him regularly, and 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 for one of his sisters, Elizabeth. Lena had orchestrated this meeting after seeing him in a family picture belonging to Elizabeth.

Barry goes to his sister's birthday party, where the rest of his sisters ridicule him. They bring up an incident from when he was younger when he threw a hammer through their sliding glass window after they kept calling him "gay boy". He reacts angrily, shattering his sister's windows. He then talks to his brother-in-law, where he asks if he can give him the phone number to a therapist.

Coping with his loneliness, Barry calls a phone-sex line, but the operator attempts to extort money and sends her 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.

After Lena leaves for Hawaii on a business trip, Barry decides to follow her. He arrives and calls Elizabeth to find out where Lena is staying. When his sister starts abusing him again, Barry snaps and demands she give him the information, which she does. Lena is overjoyed to see Barry. They spend time together and make love. At first, Barry explains that he is in Hawaii on a business trip by coincidence, but he soon admits that he came only for her. When Barry's sister calls Lena in Hawaii, Lena tells her that she has not had any contact with Barry, loyally preserving his and their privacy. The romance develops further, and Barry finally feels some relief from the emotional isolation he has endured.

After they return home, the four brothers ram their car into Barry's, leaving Lena mildly injured. With his new-found freedom from loneliness in jeopardy, a surprisingly aggressive and poised Barry adeptly fights off all four of the goons in a matter of seconds, using a tire iron. Wanting to make sure Lena is recovered, Barry leaves her at the hospital and tries to end the harassment by calling the phone-sex line back and speaking to the "supervisor", who turns out to be Dean Trumbell, the owner of a mattress store in Provo, Utah. There, Barry confronts Dean face to face. Dean, at first trying to intimidate Barry, finds him more intimidating after he tells him that he is in love and it makes him stronger than anyone else. An end to the harassment is implied once Dean learns that Barry has come all the way from California, and confronts him instead of going to the police, though Dean tries to save face by getting in the last word.

Barry returns to Lena's apartment, and tells her everything, about the phone-sex episode, and Dean's goons, and begs her for forgiveness, pledging his loyalty and to use his frequent-flier miles to accompany her on all future business trips in just six to eight weeks after his pudding miles are processed. She was upset he left the hospital but eventually agrees, and they embrace happily. Some time later, Lena approaches Barry in his office while he plays the harmonium.



After the success of Magnolia, Anderson stated that he would work with Sandler and that he was determined to make his next film ninety minutes long.[3]

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 with the same scheme.


Box officeEdit

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 receptionEdit

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

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 79% based on 194 reviews, with an average rating of 7.43/10. 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."[4] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 78 out of 100, based on 37 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[5] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "D+" on an A+ to F scale.[6]

Roger Ebert gave the film three-and-a-half stars out of four. He praised Sandler's performance in his review for the Chicago Sun-Times, 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?"[7] The film came in at #33 in The A.V. Club's "Top 50 films of the '00s".[8]

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.[9] The film was nominated for the Grand Prix of the Belgian Syndicate of Cinema Critics.

Filmmakers Lee Unkrich, Judd Apatow, Barry Jenkins and Taika Waititi, and actors Bill Nighy, Owen Wilson and Timothée Chalamet have cited it as one of their favorite films.[10][11][12]


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 mediaEdit

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.[13]


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.[14] 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. Retrieved March 8, 2015. Production Budget: $25,000,000
  2. ^ a b "Punch-Drunk Love (2002)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved August 18, 2020.
  3. ^ Patterson, John (March 10, 2000). "Magnolia Maniac". London: The Guardian. Retrieved April 12, 2010.
  4. ^ "Punch-Drunk Love". Rotten Tomatoes.
  5. ^ "Punch-Drunk Love". Metacritic.
  6. ^ "'Drunk' is an odd kind of film classic: Critics adore, fans abhor". Chicago Tribune. November 26, 2002. Retrieved August 18, 2020.
  7. ^ Ebert, Roger (October 18, 2002). "Punch-Drunk Love". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved February 5, 2011.
  8. ^ Murray, Noel; Phipps, Keith; Rabin, Nathan; Robinson, Tasha; Tobias, Scott. "The best films of the 00's". The A.V. Club. Retrieved January 17, 2010.
  9. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Punch-Drunk Love". Cannes Film Festival. Retrieved October 25, 2009.
  10. ^ Goodsell, Luke (June 15, 2010). "Five Favorite Films With Toy Story 3 Director Lee Unkrich". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved February 4, 2011.
  11. ^ Viera, Lauren (July 31, 2009). "Judd Apatow, king of the Funny People". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved July 13, 2013.
  12. ^ Ordona, Michael (November 12, 2009). "Bill Nighy pretty much lived this role". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 13, 2013.
  13. ^ "Punch-Drunk Love". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 2018-10-11.
  14. ^ Chapman, Glen (February 21, 2011). "Music in the Movies: Jon Brion." Den of Geek (DenOfGeek.us). Retrieved January 24, 2016.

External linksEdit