Film: “Punch-Drunk Love” directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
“Punch-Drunk Love” follows Barry Egan (played by Adam Sandler), an unmarried businessman who struggles with loneliness, anxiety and emotional outbursts due to the ridicule of his overbearing family. He encounters a woman named Lena (played by Emily Watson), a coworker of his sister who arranges their meeting after seeing him in a family photo. After a particularly destructive outburst, Barry uses a phone sex line for comfort; in an unexpected turn, the operator attempts to extort him for money. The film swiftly changes the viewers narrative expectations while maintaining its previous focus on the interactions of romance and mental illness, balancing different genre tendencies with ease. Lena and Barry cross paths again after he flies to see her in Hawaii, leading to a romance quickly developing between the two as the extortion threat lingers in the background. In the ensuing action, Barry’s courage grows, enabling him to overcome his socially-isolated nervousness and confront his enemies, motivated by the newfound power of love. The off-beat nature of the conflict combined with traditional elements of romance, comedy and drama swirl into a beautiful concoction of emotions. Fans of Sandler’s more serious work in “Uncut Gems” should give this film a shot, along with anyone looking for an odd yet charming depiction of budding romance.
TV Show: “Santa Clarita Diet” (2017–2019, Netflix)
I’ve recommended the TV series “Santa Clarita Diet” to almost everyone I know. And yet, it always comes with the inevitable admission that Netflix canceled the show on a massive cliffhanger in its third season. Even considering this caveat caused by sadistic business choices, I genuinely believe “Santa Clarita Diet” is a must-watch dark comedy. The show blends the late-stage capitalist farce of idyllic suburban life with the onset of a vampiric plague to hilarious effect, with leading performances by Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant being the standout element. Their portrayal of Sheila and Joel offers laugh-out-loud charisma as well as surprising tenderness. Watching the couple struggle to cover up Sheila’s vampirism is a source of humor, but their efforts also affirm their love for one another, even when faced with paranormal phenomena. Supporting performances by Liv Hewson and Skyler Gisondo also stand out, offering an equally compelling romance narrative between the punk eco-terrorist Abby and bumbling nerd-savant Eric. “Santa Clarita Diet” has jokes drier than Sheila leaves her victims, and its comedic timing is unorthodox, so its brand of humor may not be for all. Still, those barriers to entry and a premature cancellation only conceal the brilliance of this underrated gem.
Book: “Assassin’s Apprentice” by Robin Hobb
Robin Hobb’s “Assassin’s Apprentice” is so good that I had to buy a new copy after saturating countless pages of my original version with inconsolable sobbing. This novel is, by far, the most evocative and emotionally-affecting fantasy story I’ve ever read. Hobb’s fantastical world is punctuated by slow-burn worldbuilding, expertly-written characters, and gorgeous Tolkien-esque prose. The descriptions of medieval vistas floored me and made this a wonderfully cozy read, perfect for immersing yourself in the vivid detail of seedy ports, rocky highlands and imposing castles. And, yes, this book will wrench your heart from your chest, but in the best possible way. It leads you from tragedy to ecstasy with each page turn and teases out cathartic payoffs perfectly, keeping you in an emotional chokehold from beginning to end. If you want to relax for the summer with some fantasy vibes or thoroughly drain your tear ducts, “Assassin’s Apprentice” is the obvious choice.
Album: “I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One” by Yo La Tengo
New Jersey trio Yo La Tengo’s most acclaimed project is also one of my go-to summer albums. The record’s 16-song tracklist runs the gamut of indie subgenres, including indie rock/pop, shoegaze, noise pop, dream pop and more. Although these labels signal the musical diversity within the album, they hardly summarize the full range of emotions on display. For instance, “Sugarcube” makes use of powerfully fuzzy guitars and droning bass to back its intimate lyrics, whereas “Green Arrow” is a calm, nocturnal instrumental with a hint of sorrow. “One PM Again” employs soothing, deep vocals behind guitar melodies resembling country style playing, a seriousness contrasted with the lighthearted delivery on the acoustic “Center of Gravity.” Whether you’re in love, languishing in the sun, driving through the night or simply sitting in your room looking for new music, “I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One” has a delightfully poignant song to match your summer experience.