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Entries in Romantic Comedy (14)

Friday
Jul222011

Friends with Benefits

In a cinematic landscape full of poor romantic comedies, Friends with Benefits should be seen as a breath of fresh air. It’s funny, raunchy and it has a big heart, even if it does amount to little more than an amalgamation of those that have come before it, borrowing everything from its central premise (think No Strings Attached) to its most insignificant, said-in-passing plot points (one character moved around a lot as a child when her mother broke up with her boyfriends, like in The Perfect Man). It doesn’t reinvent the romantic comedy genre, that’s for sure, but it works nevertheless because of its witty writing and charismatic leads.

As the film begins, Jamie (Mila Kunis) and Dylan (Justin Timberlake), who don’t yet know each other, are being dumped by their partners. The reasons behind the break-ups are ridiculous and even a little hurtful, so they both decide they’re done with relationships. At some point later, Dylan, an LA boy, flies out to New York for an interview at GQ Magazine, set up by “headhunter” Jamie and lands the job. Because he’s new to the town, he strikes up a friendship with Jamie, which inevitably leads to physical intimacy. But because of their pasts, they both agree that’s where it should begin and end. They will be friends with benefits, nothing more.

Friends with Benefits is one of those hipster, self-aware movies that seem to be all the rage these days. It references other romantic comedies, the characters watch them and at one point, Jamie even mentions wanting her life to be like one, admitting she approaches relationships based off them. In one hilarious bit, Dylan even ridicules the obligatory upbeat pop songs these films so often have. If one thing can be said about it, Friends with Benefits knows it’s a romantic comedy, but that self-awareness doesn’t go further like it should (it doesn’t spoof the genre the way, say, Scream did to horror); it merely acknowledges the clichés before acting them out. And there are plenty of upbeat pop songs.

So it follows the formula of your typical romantic comedy, which includes the girl-sees-how-good-guy-is-with-family and ailing-family-member-momentarily-overcomes-illness-to-speak-words-of-wisdom scenes, but it works nonetheless because it dares to go places other movies won’t, taking its two talented and good looking stars and allowing them to say and do things that will make even the least prude audience member blush. It’s the type of humor that those with life experience will be able to understand, including a great (and truthful) joke that will speak to the men in the audience who understand how difficult it is to…well, I’m not so sure I’m comfortable typing it here.

Of course, most romantic comedies succeed or fail on the chemistry (or lack thereof) of its two leads. In this regard, Friends with Benefits soars. Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake are so good together, it seems a shame the two aren’t a couple in real life (though there have been rumors). At times, the film runs the risk of losing us thanks to its egregious product placement of things like the Playstation Move, which sticks out like a sore thumb due to the incandescent wand the characters hold and wave around (giving the placement of T.G.I. Friday’s in the recent Zookeeper a run for its money), but it always manages to win us back. It’s funny, good natured, fun and it includes not one, but two well choreographed flashmob performances. And who doesn’t want to see that?

Friends with Benefits receives 4/5

Friday
May062011

Something Borrowed

Writing a review of a romantic comedy is a slog through tedium. How many times must I type the same thing about films in the genre before one comes along and does something different? There hasn’t been a truly unique romantic comedy since 2008’s Definitely Maybe. That’s a long time to go watching the same thing over and over again and this week’s genre entry, Something Borrowed, isn’t going to bring about change. Given the genre’s track record, it was only a matter of time before a rom-com earned a spot on my worst of the year list. It appears that time has come.

Rachel (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Darcy (Kate Hudson) are best friends. They have been their whole lives. However, there’s an awkwardness that pervades the room every time they’re together—Rachel is in love with Darcy’s fiancée, Dex (Colin Egglesfield), though Darcy doesn’t know it. She has had a crush on him ever since they met in law school, but her timidity kept her from telling him. Now, finally, she does and he surprisingly reciprocates the feeling. A fling between the two begins, but Dex won’t leave Darcy. So Rachel turns to Ethan (John Krasinski) for advice, to which he replies, “Make him decide.”

So what makes Something Borrowed so terrible? Oh, a host of things. Aside from its predictability, clichés and mostly unintentional laughs, nearly every character in the movie is unlikable, some even deplorable. Rachel is the central character, the one we’re supposed to root for, but for the majority of the movie, she wallows in her own self pity. She whines and complains about Darcy and Dex, but thanks to the film’s non-linear approach, we get to see that their impending marriage is almost completely her fault. Rather than step up and say something, she allows Darcy to steal Dex right out from under her. You see that her pity party was self inflicted and listening to her sob stories eventually becomes tiresome.

Part of the reason you don’t like her, however, is because she frets so much about people who shouldn’t matter to her to begin with. Why is she friends with Darcy, an obnoxious, self centered floozy who points out her flaws—from her age to her ugly shoes—at every chance she gets? She puts up with and cares about this woman when, let’s be honest, she really shouldn’t. Again, it’s a problem she herself has created.

When it comes to her romantic interest, much is the same. Remember that guy in high school you hated because he was with the girl you liked, but cheating on her with someone else? Dex personifies that guy. He tells Rachel how much he cares about and wants to be with her, but then blatantly plays cute with Darcy in front of her. He strings her along, yet she still clings to him. If Dex is that guy in high school you hated, Rachel is the girl you liked who was too stupid to realize what was happening.

The only character in this entire movie without a romantic agenda, so to speak, is Ethan. He’s the only one with some sense, essentially playing the voice of reason. He can see that Dex is stringing Rachel along and he tells her about it. Of course, being the voice of reason doesn’t mean much when that voice is carrying itself into a head as empty as Rachel’s.

I’m aware I’ve spent nearly all of this review talking about how irritating the characters are, but frankly, it’s a substantial problem. Besides, complaining about the contrivances and cheesy speeches is frivolous because they’re expected. Most everyone knows how these movies play out by now. Still, I suppose there’s an audience for this tripe, so if you don’t mind formula and don’t care about interesting characters or a meaningful story, by all means, give it a go. If your brain still works, though, I’d suggest skipping Something Borrowed. Those brain cells should be cherished, not destroyed.

Something Borrowed receives 0.5/5

Friday
Dec172010

How Do You Know

The requirements a romantic comedy must meet to be considered a quality product are flimsy. If there’s one genre of film that manages to suck more than any other, it’s that one, so when I see one I know I’m going to recommend, I inevitably wonder if it’s because it’s actually good or if I’m just lowering my standards in response to the cavalcade of garbage I’ve sat through. In the case of How Do You Know, I think it may be the latter. Despite having James L. Brooks, director of As Good as It Gets and the underappreciated Spanglish, at the helm, How Do You Know is a mixed bag of delight and dismay.

Reese Witherspoon plays Lisa, a gold medalist softball player who is about to find out she has been cut from the team. Her new boyfriend, Matty, played by Owen Wilson, is the star pitcher on the Washington Nationals, whose team seems to make spectacular plays in front packed stadiums (which solidifies that this is indeed a work of fiction). But when one of Lisa’s friends gives George, played by Paul Rudd, her number, she finds herself in a love triangle. Like herself, George needs some comfort because he has just been subpoenaed and is under investigation for securities fraud, though he honestly doesn’t know why. He has done nothing wrong. So Lisa finds herself torn and tries to juggle both relationships, though one is clearly working more than the other.

Also thrown in the mix is Jack Nicholson playing George’s father. The cast Brooks wrangled up for How Do You Know is impressive. All are great talents and provide different attributes to the film. Wilson is the funny one, Witherspoon is the sweet one, Nicholson is the mean and selfish one and Rudd is the all around pleasant one, making it easy to understand why Witherspoon could fall for him even though he may see jail time. They’re all wonderful in their roles; they’re just not given much to do.

The characters all seem to be walking a loop, especially Lisa who leaves Matty, then comes back, then leaves again, then thinks better of it and so on. The story aside from the immediate love story is inconsequential, including the entire subplot about the investigation where we find George’s father may have played a part in his downfall. How Do You Know runs nearly two hours long and I could have pointed out a good thirty minutes that could have been cut without losing the overall effect. One long winded scene, for instance, has George handling a video recorder while a minor character gives a sappy speech. But whoops! He forgot to turn it on, so the characters repetitively play through it all again so they can capture it on tape.

How Do You Know is one of the most uneven films of the year, boring you to sleep one moment and charming the pants off you the next. Undeterred by the cumbersome screenplay, the natural charisma of the talent shines through and by the end, I was surprised how much I had come to care about the characters, despite the irksome Lisa, who is essentially a walking proverb, always spouting off some stupid phrase. It’s not particularly funny and its contrivances almost pull it under, as is the case with most rom-coms, but the final moments of the film seal the deal. The last shot in particular, which will remain unspoiled, is utterly beautiful. Without it, my score may have dipped and How Do You Know would have missed a recommendation. That shot is the perfect ending to an imperfect film.

How Do You Know receives 2.5/5

Wednesday
Nov242010

Love & Other Drugs

Love & Other Drugs is a movie that goes to show how important casting is. Without the star power of Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway, the film would fall into obscurity never to be heard from again. Their natural charisma and good looks take an otherwise formulaic romantic comedy and make it transcendent.

Gyllenhaal plays Jamie, a fast talking, womanizing salesman at a local electronics store. After being caught having sex with the boss’s girlfriend in the backroom, he is fired and ends up grabbing a job as a pharmaceutical rep at Pfizer right before the company had its breakthrough with Viagra in 1998. As a way to work his drugs into the doctor’s office, he bribes his way into an internship with Dr. Knight, played by Hank Azaria. There he meets Maggie (Anne Hathaway), a beautiful 26 year old with Parkinson’s disease, but when he tries to pick her up, as he has countless women before, she calls him out for the game he’s playing. It turns out she can play it too and, despite agreeing to keep their relationship at the casual sex level, Jamie starts to fall for her.

Love & Other Drugs, like most romantic comedies, is predictable. While the smooth dialogue felt fresh, the plot turns did not. You’ll see where the movie is heading from the get go, having mapped it all out in your head well before it ends, but it’s still believable. Their relationship may unfold in a typical fashion, but it’s sweet and you’ll feel the appropriate range of emotions—sadness, happiness, depression, loneliness, fear—because the actors are that good at bringing them forth.

Also like most romantic comedies, Love & Other Drugs is full of contrivances that lead to misunderstandings and arguments that otherwise would have never occurred. Prior to one late scene, Jamie had never questioned the hardships that may come in the future from being with a woman who has Parkinson’s disease. It isn’t until a man at a random Parkinson’s convention details them to him in as grisly a fashion as possible that he starts to wonder.

There are also some romantic comedy clichés, including a late movie race to catch up to a loved one that is followed by a long, overemotional speech, but there’s something about it that works. It takes about half the movie for the sweetness to role in, but when it does it never lets up and it will grab hold of you. To sit here and tell you I didn’t choke up at certain moments in the movie would be a lie. It affected me despite its trifecta of romantic comedy downfalls.

With a supporting cast that includes Oliver Platt, Judy Greer, the aforementioned Hank Azaria and a hilarious performance by Josh Gad as Jamie’s brother, there isn’t a moment where charm isn’t seeping through, but this is still Gyllenhaal’s and Hathaway’s movie. They are in the spotlight and despite noble attempts from its talented supporting cast, it’s never stolen from them. Gyllenhaal is warm and funny while Hathaway is radiant. Their chemistry is magnificent.

While Love & Other Drugs can’t be considered one of the best of the year, it can be considered one of the best in its respective genre. It hits similar pratfalls as its romantic comedy brethren, but it’s funny and heartfelt and in a year lacking movies with similar traits, that is all I could ask for.

Love & Other Drugs receives 4/5

Friday
Oct082010

Life as We Know It

How do you defend the indefensible? I know, thinking from the movie critic part of my brain, that Life as We Know It is a bad movie and other critics will scoff at its trite, ridiculous, formulaic story, but there’s something about it that drew me in. I’m aware of its faults—it’s a sloppy movie from top to bottom (including one very noticeable blurry shot that is downright inexcusable for a major motion picture)—but I liked it. Although I never want to see it again, it’s a major step up from the onslaught of other 2010 romantic comedy dreck.

The story begins in 2007 and Holly (Katherine Heigl) is about to head out on a blind date with Eric Messer (Josh Duhamel). Both are friends with Alison (Christina Hendricks) and Peter Novak (Hayes MacArthur) and were set up to meet each other. However, from the moment their eyes meet, they hate each other. In fact, they don’t even get to the restaurant before calling it a night. Holly then angrily tells Alison that the only way she can make it up to her is if she promises she’ll never have to see Eric again. So naturally, they cross paths again. As the montage during the opening credits shows, they run into each other many, many more times at events thrown by the Novaks, but after tragedy strikes and the Novaks pass away, Holly and Eric are forced to bond because they are left with their one year old child, together named the guardians of little Sophie (Brooke Clagett) despite not being a couple.

Life as We Know It is manipulative and the filmmakers know it. It takes an easy emotional target (killing off two beloved friends) and then ups the ante by tossing in a now orphaned child. That’s one contribution to its inevitable critical hatred. Another is the predictable story where it’s obvious that by the end (spoilers!) the two leads will fall for each other and live happily ever after, raising the kid as if it was their own.

To toss another cliché into the fire, before that final resolution, there’s even an airport chase scene where one character rushes through the terminals to stop the other from leaving. Because of these factors, I understand why people will hate it, but the movie going experience is just as much about emotion as it is the technical aspects and only the coldest of souls (and the not so easily fooled film critics) won’t have their heartstrings pulled. I pitied Holly and Eric as their lives were turned upside down, having not only lost their best friends, but also dumped with the important responsibility of raising their child, a task neither of them were prepared for.

It’s an unlikely real life scenario, but not unheard of and the two leads do a fantastic job of showing the hurt and pain they’re going through with the uncertainty and reluctance of raising a kid. Heigl, who has appeared in nothing but trash since Knocked Up (like 27 Dresses, Killers and The Ugly Truth, all equally awful), redeems herself here, even if only slightly. An early emotional breakdown shows that she isn’t all looks. She actually has some talent somewhere behind that pretty face and Duhamel, a wonderfully charming and handsome man if there ever was one, perfectly complements her.

You may see where the story is heading from the start, but it feels believable and that’s what matters. It’s even pretty funny, with some sly references to Slumdog Millionaire and Speed, and it features a supporting cast full of faces you’ll recognize, but won't be able to put a name to.

I don’t want to come off as a defender of this film because, from its messy direction to its been-there-done-that script, it’s pretty bad. But sometimes emotions trump those technical aspects. While not overwhelming, there was something in Life as We Know It that got the best of me.

Life as We Know It receives 3/5