Barry Egan is a single man who owns a company that markets themed toilet plungers and other novelty items. He has seven overbearing sisters who ridicule and emotionally abuse him regularly and leads a lonely life punctuated by fits of rage and anguish. In the span of one morning, he witnesses an inexplicable car accident, picks up an abandoned harmonium from the street, and encounters Lena Leonard, a coworker of one of his sisters, Elizabeth. Lena had orchestrated this meeting after seeing him in a family picture belonging to Elizabeth.
Coping with his loneliness, Barry calls a phone-sex line, but the operator attempts to extort money and sends her four henchmen, who are brothers, to collect. This complicates his budding relationship with Lena, as well as his plan to exploit a loophole in a Healthy Choice promotion and amass a million frequent flyer miles by buying large quantities of pudding.
After Lena leaves for Hawaii on a business trip, Barry decides to follow her. He arrives and calls one of his manipulative sisters to find out where Lena is staying. When his sister starts abusing him again, Barry snaps and demands she give him the information, which she does. Lena is overjoyed to see Barry, and they later have sex. At first, Barry explains that he is in Hawaii on a business trip by coincidence, but he soon admits that he came only for her. The romance develops further, and Barry finally feels some relief from the emotional isolation he has endured.
After they return home, the four brothers ram their car into Barry's, leaving Lena mildly injured. With his new-found freedom from loneliness in jeopardy, a surprisingly aggressive and poised Barry adeptly fights off all four of the goons in a matter of seconds, using a tire iron as a weapon. Suspecting that Lena will leave him if she finds out about the phone-sex fiasco, Barry leaves Lena at the hospital and tries to end the harassment by calling the phone-sex line back and speaking to the "supervisor", who turns out to be Dean Trumbell, who is also the owner of a mattress store. Barry travels to the mattress store in Provo, Utah, to confront Dean face to face. Dean, at first trying to intimidate Barry, finds Barry much more intimidating and Barry compels Dean to leave him alone.
Barry decides to tell Lena about his phone-sex episode and begs her for forgiveness, pledging his loyalty and to use his frequent-flier miles to accompany her on all future business trips. She readily agrees, and they embrace happily. Some time later, Lena approaches Barry in his office while he plays the harmonium. She puts her arms around him and says, "So, here we go."Adam Sandler as Barry Egan
Emily Watson as Lena Leonard
Philip Seymour Hoffman as Dean Trumbell
Mary Lynn Rajskub as Elizabeth Egan
Luis Guzmán as Lance
Robert Smigel as Walter the Dentist
The film received a limited domestic release, beginning on October 11, 2002 and totaling $17,791,032 in box office receipts; an international box office of about $6,800,000 resulted in a worldwide box office of $24,591,032.
Punch-Drunk Love received generally positive reviews from critics and has a rating of 79% "Certified Fresh" on Rotten Tomatoes based on 184 reviews with an average rating of 7.4 out of 10. The consensus states "Odd, touching, and unique, Punch-Drunk Love is also delightfully funny, utilizing Adam Sandler's comic persona to explore the life of a lonely guy who finds love." The film also has a score of 78 out of 100 on Metacritic based on 37 reviews. The movie came at #33 in The A.V. Club's "Top 50 films of the '00s".
Roger Ebert praised Sandler's performance in his review for the Chicago Sun-Times, saying, "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. He can't go on making those moronic comedies forever, can he?" Sandler went on to win Best Actor at the Gijón International Film Festival for his performance and was also nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy.
Paul Thomas Anderson won the award for Best Director at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival and the film received a nomination for the Palme d'Or. The film was nominated for the Grand Prix of the Belgian Syndicate of Cinema Critics.
Filmmakers Lee Unkrich, Judd Apatow and Barry Jenkins and actors Bill Nighy and Owen Wilson have cited it as one of their favorite films.
The score to Punch-Drunk Love was composed by Jon Brion. As with Magnolia, Brion and director Paul Thomas Anderson collaborated heavily for the production of the film's score. However, rather than scoring the film after rough footage had been shot, Brion made compositions during the filming of Punch-Drunk Love. During the scoring process, Brion would experiment with tones and sounds, carefully making note of what Anderson would respond to. Anderson himself would create the vocal tempos he would envision in the score and use them on set, even to the extent of inspiring the pace of Adam Sandler's performance.
The film's score features heavy use of the harmonium. Brion had introduced Anderson to the harmonium on Magnolia, and Anderson knew he wanted it to feature heavily in this score. Many scenes between Adam Sandler's character and the instrument were inspired by Brion. For instance, Brion once found a harmonium with a hole in its bellows before going on tour with Aimee Mann. To fix the problem, he covered the hole with duct tape. The situation is mirrored in the film.