This is supposed to be the Adam Sandler film that it's okay to have on your DVD shelf. It's the one that doesn't feel out of place on the prestigious Criterion label, the one where you don't laugh because it's not a comedy, rather than one where you don't laugh because Sandler has the comedic value of blunt force trauma. It's the one where Sandler is annoying because he's supposed to be annoying, not one where he's supposed to be a lovable goofy manchild but just comes off as annoying. That's because it's an auteur piece by the apparently uncriticisable (it's a word) dahhling of the cravat-wielding cineaste set Paul Thomas Anderson.
I'm ambivalent about PTA: I loved Boogie Nights and half-liked There Will Be Blood and Inherent Vice, but absolutely hated The Master which everyone else in the world adored. Sadly, this is another one in the debit column: a deliberately weird and offputting non-romantic anti-comedy in which oddity salesman Sandler meets up with Emily Watson, co-worker with one of his (seven) sisters. He's a long-term loner with anger issues, he's buying huge stocks of supermarket desserts because of an airmiles offer, but he's also falling victim to a phone-sex scam operated by mattress mogul Philip Seynour Hoffmann...
Some of the current titans of mainstream American multiplex comedy - Will Ferrell, Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill - are more interesting (or at least less irritating) when they're playing lighter, more sophisticated comedy or actual straight drama: Melinda And Melinda, Steve Jobs, True Story. Thus far I've managed to dodge many of the Happy Gilmore-shaped bullets, because life's too short to keep hurting yourself like that, but in the case of Punch-Drunk Love it's not just him that seems to have been deliberately designed to be as odd and out of place as possible. From Jon Brion's intrusive score to Sandler's weirdly distracting bright blue suit, from the harmonium dumped at the side of the road (serving neither character nor narrative purposes, it's just something that happens) to the straight bits of comedy (unbreakable sink plungers which aren't) and violence (Sandler setting about a bunch of goons with a tyre iron), it's a film in which none of the pieces fit together, and quite deliberately.
What it does have in its favour is magnificent photography: even on Blu through a 37-inch TV, Anderson's regular DP Robert Elswit makes the celluloid soar with bold colours and it's an absolute validation of 35mm stock over cold dead digital. But I don't think the technicals of filmmaking are anywhere near enough to offset grating characters and score (including multiple uses of a song from the Popeye soundtrack, of all things) and narrative: it leaves you feeling uncomfortable and frustrated, and I don't get the logic in deliberate feelbad. I don't usually get Paul Thomas Anderson (give me Paul WS Anderson any day!), I certainly don't get Adam Sandler, and I absolutely don't get Punch-Drunk Love.