Punch-Drunk Love: Structure

October 7, 2008

Another one in my quest to figure out how screenplay structure works.
Spoilers galore.

punch drunk love

A lonely, pressured, volatile man falls victim to an extortion scheme just as he meets the girl of his dreams.

Adam Sandler as Barry, lonely, meek, constantly harangued by seven sisters, nothing seems to go his way. Meets Lena, a beautiful girl (Emily Watson) and can barely talk to her. At a horrible family dinner party we see he has a depressive anger problem, sometimes smashes things or cries uncontrollably. Begs brother-in-law for access to a shrink. Barry has discovered a loophole where he might be able to get a zillion airmiles by buying pudding.

Inciting incident:
Barry naively calls a shady phone-sex line, desperate to confide in someone. Georgia, the woman on the other end calls him back the next morning asking for money & threatening him.

Amazing scene: everything crashes all at once. Sister brings by the friend she’s been pushing on him- it’s Lena. Interrupted by Georgia calling him back at work, more threats. Sister harasses, knows about shrink, left alone with Lena, co-workers bug him, Georgia calls again, Lena opens up, Georgia again, forklift accident at work, Lena flirts, sister comes back, forklift, sister, pudding, wow.

And reprieve: Lena invites him to dinner.
And crap: Georgia calls back & declares war.

Enter antagonist:
Phillip Semour Hoffman as the phone-sex baron with a hit out on Barry.

More complications:
Great first date- Lena seems to like him!
… but Barry has a freak-out & smashes the washroom.

She seems to like him anyway and they share a lovely first kiss, but…

Crisis / Low point:
… but as he gets home the extortionists appear & terrorize him.
He decides to leave & stocks up on pudding to join Lena in Hawaii
… but can’t get the air miles in time.

Act Three Turning Point:
He bravely & impulsively goes to Hawaii anyway.
Even stands up to sister on the phone.

And has a gorgeous reunion with Lena.

This scene is just... wow.

This scene is just... wow.

Back from Hawaii, and right into the shit: the extortionists hit his car & hurt Lena.
Barry, protective of Lena, attacks & beats up the extortionist.
Abandons Lena in hospital to confront antagonist.
Goes to Utah for revenge.
Faces off against antagonist in store.
Finally stands up for himself because love has made him strong.

Begs forgiveness of Lena.
Lena forgives him.
“Here we go.”

Neat stuff:

The first third or so of the movie is shot like a horror film- lots of left-balanced frames, following handheld, smash cuts, creepy music.

In the entire first scene with Lena, her head is obscured by a lens flare- beautiful. Only after we meet Lena does shooting style change to a more traditional romcom style, in the cuts between long shots where she catches him looking at her bum as she leaves him in the parking lot.

Sound design in the scene where sister, Lena, forklift, and Georgia all collide is unbelievable.

The pudding thing is based on a true story.

Some scenes have dialogue that verges on the maudlin (faceoff agains antagonist; Barry apologizes for leaving Lena at hospital)- but those scenes are shot with obscured faces to take the edge off the on-the-nose dialogue.

First kiss in the apartment hallway has a lovely swooping, sweeping camera move. Strong feeling of melodrama where movement & music match perfectly.

Use of Olive Oyl’s song “He needs me”, leading to the big silhouetted kiss in the Hawaii hotel is maybe my favourite shot in the history of film.

In Magnolia and especially There Will Be Blood, I felt manipulated by PT Anderson’s overwhelming scores, especially up against some of his slooow sloow scenes (When Daniel Day Lewis climbed ever. so. sloooowly. out of the mine at the beginning of There Will Be Blood, to the empty, pointless buzzsaw screechings of a thousand angry violins, I think my brain bled a bit). But in Punch-Drunk, I think the sound design, though big, is fantastic. It’s straight-up melodrama, full-on French Theatre School melodrama, and I love it.

I really like this movie.