Song of the Day #4,864: ‘He Needs Me’ – Shelly Duvall

Punch-Drunk Love (2002) marks a clear dividing line in the filmography of Paul Thomas Anderson. It is unlike anything he made before or after, and it seems to have broken him out of old habits and helped him forge a vision entirely his own.

On the three films before this one, Anderson wore his influences on his sleeve, delivering his spin on the styles of Scorsese, Tarantino, Altman and Demme. Punch-Drunk Love is his first film that feels in no way derivative.

That doesn’t make it a better movie than its predecessors, necessarily, but it makes it a key step in the maturation of one of our greatest auteurs.

The film stars Adam Sandler in his first “serious” role. His Barry Egan is a nervous, repressed man full of bottled-up anger and desperate to love and be loved. Emma Watson plays the angelic figure who enters his life and brings harmony to the chaos.

This is a deconstruction of the traditional romantic comedy, one that uses sound, light and color to symbolize the swirl of emotions surrounding its main character. At times, the action, score and camerawork crescendo into an uncomfortable cacophony, as if the movie itself is set in Barry’s troubled mind.

At other times, the chaos resolves into blissful serenity, as it does during an extended sequence in Hawaii (set to today’s SOTD, a song from Robert Altman’s Popeye). This search for peace is symbolized by a harmonium Barry finds abandoned on the street in the film’s first scenes, and his efforts to repair and master the instrument mirror the journey to settle his frazzled heart and brain.

Sandler is excellent here. The movie makes perfect use of his man-child persona and his capacity for outbursts of rage. He has since proven his acting chops in a number of well-received films (Uncut Gems, most recently) but this was the first time critics took him seriously.

Watson has much less to do. Her character is basically an angel delivered to Los Angeles to save Barry’s life. She is luminous in the part but I wish she was given a bit more to do, or that we were given more insight into what she sees in him.

Oddly, Punch-Drunk Love is a movie I admire and like more in hindsight than when I’m actually watching it. I think that’s because the early scenes capturing Barry’s discombobulation are so well-executed that I find the film uncomfortable to sit through at times.

But it remains a fascinating, rewarding film, and one that might just be the key to understanding Anderson’s overall output.

And all at once I knew
I knew at once
I knew he needed me

Until the day I die
I won’t know why
I knew he needed me

It could be fantasy, o-oh
Or maybe it’s because

He needs me he needs me
He needs me he needs me
He needs me he needs me

Dah de da da da da da da da da dah

It’s like a dime a dance
I’ll take a chance
I will because he needs me

Noone ever asked before
Before because they never needed me

[Popeye]
But I do
But he does!

Maybe it’s because he’s so alone
Maybe it’s because he’s never had a home

He needs me he needs me
He needs me he needs me
He needs me he needs me

For once, for once in life
I’ve finally felt
That someone needed me

And if it turns out real
Then love can turn the wheel

Because

He needs me he needs me
He needs me he needs me
He needs me he needs me

Dah de da da da da da da da da dum
Dah de da da da da da da da da dah

5 thoughts on “Song of the Day #4,864: ‘He Needs Me’ – Shelly Duvall

  1. Reb says:

    Interesting. I thought Sandler gave a good performance in Spanglish as well. Have you done a dive on Demme’s films? In addition to being an incredible filmmaker, he made really good use of music in his movies.

    • Clay says:

      Definitely considering a Demme deep dive. I’ve revisited a few of his films in the past year and loved every minute. I know he has several I haven’t seen and would love to catch.

  2. Dana Gallup says:

    This is yet another film I recall really liking, but saw nearly 20 years ago and don’t remember much about it. It seems I would benefit from doing the same deep dive you are doing into PT Anderson’s filmography.

  3. Peg says:

    I thought I had seen this movie but I’m not remembering it. Not a real fan of Adam Sandler but I agree with Reb that he was good in Spanglish and also liked him in 50 First Dates. Even though I didn’t like Uncut Gems ( being kind) he did get good reviews. So I guess I have another one to check out at some point.

  4. Amy says:

    I remember adoring this film, so it’s particularly strange that I never saw it again. I’m realizing I’ve only seen all of his films the single time in the theater. Could definitely use to rewatch a bunch of them. And I second the request for a Demme musical deep dive.

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