Flashback: Punch-Drunk Love

The way to criticize a movie, Godard famously said, is to make another movie. In that sense «Punch-Drunk Love» is film criticism. Paul Thomas Anderson says he loves Sandler’s comedies--they cheer him up on lonely Saturday nights--but as the director of «Boogie Nights» and «Magnolia» he must have been able to sense something missing in them, some unexpressed need. The Sandler characters are almost oppressively nice, like needy puppies, and yet they conceal a masked hostility to society, a passive-aggressive need to go against the flow, a gift for offending others while in the very process of being ingratiating. […]

The film is exhilarating to watch because 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. His world is hedged around with mystery and challenge. Consider an opening scene, when he is at work hours before the others have arrived, and sees a harmonium dumped in the street in front of his office. It is at once the most innocent and ominous of objects; he runs from it and then peeks around a corner to see if it is still there. -- Roger Ebert