30 Mar

Punch-Drunk Love

“I didn’t ask for a shrink. That must’ve been somebody else. Also, that pudding isn’t mine. Also, I’m wearing this suit today because I had a very important meeting this morning, and I don’t have a crying problem.”

– Barry Egan

André here, with my Birthday Super Munch post. This year, I struggled to come up with a movie to watch. As I racked my brain for a favorite movie that would be fun to watch for the blog, Punch-Drunk Love kept coming up to the top of my list. I hadn’t seen it since I went on a Paul Thomas Anderson (or PTA as his fans refer to him) kick in 2014 when Inherent Vice came out, but it really made an impression on me at the time. I had also recently seen Sandler’s Uncut Gems, and was incredibly impressed with his performance in that film, reminding me of his dramatic performance in Punch-Drunk Love.

What finally made me settle on the romantic-comedy-slash-thriller, Punch-Drunk Love, was the concept we had for the food – or more specifically, the food photography. We wanted the photos to elicit the magnetic push and pull of two characters dancing around falling in love, while at the same time evoking the clear and stunning visual language of the film: shades of grey, white, and blue with dramatic lighting and distinct silhouettes, often of two individuals. There is a haunting beauty and intimacy to the scenes, and it is hard for it not to be an extension of the dramatic approach the film itself takes to romance. We felt like we needed to honor and support that vision in the shots of the food we prepared.

We opened with cocktail shrimp, as we were 1) looking for food where two people could interact with the scene at the same time and 2) looking for food with distinct profiles. Over the process of the shoot, we were thrilled that we were able to create a heart-like form within the image, inspired by the heart silhouette created by the hug between Barry and Lena at the end of the film. “Cinematic parallels.”

For the main course, we made a grilled cheese, loaded up with plenty of mozzarella for a dramatic pull-apart moment. Like Barry and Lena, the two pieces held close to each other as the world tried to pull them apart. Drama and beauty held in the same scene at the same time.

We ended with Chocolate Baked Alaska, which if you have never had one is basically a scoop of ice cream on a round of cake with torched meringue on the outside surrounding the cool interiors. Perhaps you can see our approach now. Foods with clear silhouettes to further the visual homage and the meringue provided an interesting undefined form. Even the Baked Alaska was able to capture the at times fragile-seeming thread holding a couple together as other forces attempt to separate them. Drama and beauty.

Before sitting down to watch the film, we had to have a sweet punch in hand, and turned to Ryan Magarian’s Love Unit cocktail from NYT Cooking. Made up of vanilla rum, grapefruit juice, basil leaves, and red bell peppers, this is a cocktail that sounds bizarre but tastes delicious, with a great mix of sweet, spicy, and herbaceous scents. And we were won over by the name and how it supported the themes of love in the film.

There is always some room for thoughts on the film: I still love it. It is an awkward, romantic, frantic family drama with plenty of crime, comedy, and courageous performances, all packed into a tight 90 minutes. It’s a beautiful roller-coaster of a film, guiding the viewer through the peaks and valleys of a few key days in the lonely Barry Egan’s (Adam Sandler) life, wherein he falls in love while at the same time deals with being extorted by a phone sex hotline and bullied by his seven sisters.

PTA’s craft is impeccable in Punch-Drunk Love. He masterly pairs the layered dissonance of Jon Brion’s score alongside the collision of all the chaotic elements in Barry Egan’s life, creating a sense of anxiety and impending doom in the viewer. If you’ve followed my picks for my birthday posts, you know I have a soft spot an anxiety-inducing movie. I love it when the tension builds, and how that adds an extra element to comic relief sprinkled through. Tension increases the payoff at the climax and the catharsis at the end of the experience. For this reason, I adore Punch-Drunk Love, and I’ve welcomed Uncut Gems into my list of favorites.

Finally, I would be remiss if I were to end the post without mentioning the performances of Adam Sandler and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. I’ve never held back my contempt for Adam Sandler in past posts, but here and in Uncut Gems, he stands out as an incredible character actor, able to add, for once, an understated layer of comedic relief to an otherwise complex and convincing performance. I hope he stops making crappy Netflix movies and does more of this! Although, if you are the type of person that is loving that output… more power to you, I guess.

I can’t leave off on that sour note so I want to finish with a little more love. PTA has a wonderful ability to be able to utilize the incredible range of his favorite actor, Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Hoffman is always a pleasure to watch, and I hope we watch another film he is in soon (somehow this is our first). Maybe next birthday?