Curating the best and the bizarre in Netflix’s ever-growing ‘Watch Instantly’ library.
Each week we’ll select worthy titles: sometimes old, sometimes new, sometimes popular, sometimes not.
Punch Drunk Love
By Tim Kennedy
I hate November. The cold is here, the sun is gone, and all I want to do is plow through the next two weeks and spend Thanksgiving weekend consuming the GDP of a developing nation at my parents’ house. But for this week’s installment of NetPix, I’m going to think happy thoughts and recommend Punch-Drunk Love, a film that never fails to make me feel a little bit delirious (if not quite drunk).
Adam Sandler stars, but this is not an “Adam Sandler movie.” It’s a Paul Thomas Anderson movie, and if you’ve seen Anderson’s other great films (Boogie Nights, Magnolia, There Will Be Blood), you’ll have some idea what to expect. But while Punch-Drunk Love shares the flowing cinematography and genius musical cues of Anderson’s other works, it’s also the only entry in Anderson’s canon that ends on an unequivocally happy note. It would be a stretch to call Punch-Drunk Love “sweet”—a major subplot concerns a phone sex hotline run by criminals—but it’s a giddy, infectious little movie all the same.
Sandler plays Barry Egan, a very lonely, very strange Los Angeles businessman. He does three main things over the course of the film: (1) buys $3,000 worth of Healthy Choice pudding to exploit a flawed frequent flyer miles giveaway program, (2) calls a phone sex chat number and ends up being pursued by some dangerous men, and (3) falls in love with Lena (Emily Watson), another lonely, strange Angelino.
It’s in the telling of number three that Punch-Drunk Love really soars. This is basically a love story between two people who have zero social skills, but rather than inviting us to laugh at their ineptitude, Anderson films his characters with such empathy that their first kiss feels almost as heady as the real thing. Barry and Lena are so realistically good (i.e. morally complicated and a little ridiculous) they are able to instantly clear the bad taste left by 20+ years of romcom heroes who never really deserved love to begin with.
By Colin George
Paul Thomas Anderson is one of my favorite directors working today, but no discussion of modern filmmaking geniuses would be complete without mention of the Coen brothers. Chances are, you’ve already seen their seminal 1996 film Fargo, but I’m going to recommend it anyway. Besides, Fargo is worth revisiting, and still stands as the pair’s best work.
The brilliance of the film lies in its deft genre blending. This darkly comedic thriller stars Frances McDormand as yokel police chief Marge Gunderson, who tracks a series of murders in and around Minneapolis, which the Coens paint as the politeness capital of the world. The charming northwestern accent gives the cast an amusing affability.
William H. Macy plays the corrupt catalyst for the crimes, a down-on-his-luck car salesman who hires two crooks (Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare) to kidnap his wife in order to weasel ransom money out of her well-to-do father. Of course, his simple plan spirals predictably out of control, climaxing with perhaps the single most innovative use of a wood chipper in cinematic history.
Speaking of romances this week, Fargo also features one of the subtlest, most sweetly compelling couples in cinematic history. After a long day at work, Marge kicks back in bed with her husband Norm (gentle giant John Carroll Lynch). Their shared vulnerability and mutual support makes for one of the most tender and un-Hollywood portrayals of love I’ve ever seen. Fargo simply works on every level.
Simultaneously a compelling thriller and hilarious black comedy, Fargo is quite simply the Coens’ masterpiece, and unequivocally one of the greatest American films of all time. If you somehow haven’t yet seen it, or just haven’t seen it recently, it’s the perfect way to kick-off the coming cold season. Grab a blanket, cuddle up with someone special, and enjoy.
Tags: adam sandler, coen, fargo, focus, frances mcdormand, netflix, netpix, paul thomas anderson, pt anderson, punch drunk love