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Entries in Romantic Comedy (14)

Friday
Sep032010

Going the Distance

Summertime and the holiday season are the two biggest times of the year for cinema. Not only are they the most profitable for Hollywood, they also receive the most high profile films. Big budget blockbusters, hilarious ensemble comedies and dramatic Oscar contenders all seem to show up during those points in the year. The areas in between, despite having the occasional winner, are usually laden with garbage—bad romantic comedies, lame horror movies and the like (the latter of which The Last Exorcism can attest to). Well, this week’s romantic comedy, Going the Distance, is one of those occasional winners. Its execution is awkward and its existence slight, but there’s a bit of charm and a few decent laughs to keep you interested.

Justin Long plays Garrett, an outgoing young guy who hates his job at a local New York record company. In a hilarious, true-to-life opening, his girlfriend breaks up with him for not buying her a gift on her birthday, despite telling him she didn’t want anything. Supposedly, the statement was intended for him to realize how much he wants to get a gift for her. But no dice, he doesn’t and the relationship ends. At a bar one night, he meets Erin, played nicely by Drew Barrymore, at a Centipede arcade machine. It turns out she’s the elusive ERL who has dominated the leaderboards for the last few months. The two connect and end up back at Garrett’s place, but then Erin explains to him that she’s an intern at the New York Sentinel and is only in town for another few weeks. Although they agree early on not to take the relationship further than random hangouts and hookups, it nevertheless blossoms and they decide to attempt a long distance relationship, Garrett in New York and Erin in California.

There’s something wonderful about Drew Barrymore. She’s the perfect every girl, someone you can believe would be walking around the streets of the Big Apple. She is adorable, bubbly and charming with a sort of sexiness that doesn’t overshadow her personality. Cast her opposite real life on again, off again boyfriend Justin Long and you have a chemistry that feels authentic.

Even more important than that, however, is the humor and there are a few great jokes here. There aren’t many movies that can pull off a Triumph of the Will reference, but Going the Distance somehow does. That funny line precedes the funniest scene of the movie: phone sex gone wrong. But for every one of those instances, there’s another where the joke falls completely flat or is stretched too long, including an absurdly unfunny sight gag involving a tanning machine and run on jokes about defecating with the door open.

What the movie unfortunately lacks is an emotional evolution of the characters. Think back to some of the greatest romantic comedies of all time like It Happened One Night or When Harry Met Sally. Those wonderful films began with the two main characters at a quarrel, not particularly liking each other, but as the movie went on they gradually realized the romantic feelings that were there. Going the Distance has no such arc. The characters love each other at the beginning and they love each other at the end. So what the film instead resorts to is a continual loop, one character flying out to visit the other, going back home and then wondering if they can keep it up being so far apart. It wears thin by the end.

Going the Distance has many problems and it falls far short of being memorable. I suspect in a month or so, I’ll have forgotten about it entirely, but the leads are likable and the supporting cast beautifully supports them, providing a much needed comedic break between the sometimes eye rolling dramatics. It’s worth a look, but only once and never again.

Going the Distance receives 2.5/5

Friday
Jun042010

Killers

We’re nearly halfway through 2010 and when this time rolls around I like to reminisce back on my time at the movies and pick out what I think are some of the best and worst so far. If this first half of the year is characteristic of the second, romantic comedies will adorn most of my worst of the year list. The Back-Up Plan, The Bounty Hunter, Leap Year, all deserve a spot on that not-so-coveted list. Now you can add Killers to it, a movie so bad it manages to screw up three different genres in one fell swoop. Part romance, part action and part comedy, this thing is neither romantic, exciting nor funny. Killers fails on every conceivable level.

Katherine Heigl plays Jen, a recently single woman who is on vacation with her parents to Nice, France. There she meets a muscular, handsome fellow named Spencer, played by Ashton Kutcher. Little does she know, he’s actually a killer spy on a mission. However, he falls in love with her so hard he pulls himself out of the game and marries her. Three years later they live in a neighborhood where cops evidently don’t exist and everybody is a contract killer. You see, a 20 million dollar bounty has just been put on his head and his neighbors are coming out of the woodworks packing heat. Who is friend and who is foe? Revealing all of his secrets to Jen, he must figure out what is going on and who is behind it all.

Let’s just put this out on the table. Ashton Kutcher is one of the least convincing killer spies in the history of cinema. He couldn’t pull this role off if he had taken acting lessons from Humphrey Bogart. Taking cues from the Bond films, he tries to play the suave, sexy type, but his looks are too boyish to work. Instead of coming off as charming and sophisticated, it feels more like he should be lining the pages of Calvin Klein underwear magazine ads.

The fact of the matter is that Kutcher is an offensively bland actor. Outside of the recent Valentine’s Day where he, surprisingly enough, charmed me, he seems out of his element unless acting out lunacy. He belongs in things like Dude, Where’s My Car? and the tough guy technique he tries to put on in this thing is laughable.

Which is more than you can say for the rest of the movie, which elicits a grand total of one laugh, and even then you can argue the validity of it. Was it actually funny or was I so desperate for a chuckle by the end that I couldn’t help but crack up? It’s tough to say.

Then you have the embarrassing action scenes that utilize that damned shaky cam technique to make everything look more hectic than it really is, most likely due to the inability of the cast to simulate an actual fight.

I suppose the one saving grace of Killers is that the characters aren’t deplorable. Compared to their roles in movies like What Happens in Vegas and The Ugly Truth, Kutcher and Heigl play relatively likable people who want to live normal lives, but are forced into a mysterious game of life and death, though likable may not be the best adjective. Tolerable, maybe. Whatever you want to call them, they’re nevertheless wrapped in an inane plot and forced to spit out some of the lamest, most harebrained jokes this side of Did You Hear About the Morgans?

Lots of people wanted to kill Kutcher in this film and you’ll see plenty of bullets fly at the screen. Don’t be surprised if you start to wish one of those bullets would break through and put you out of your misery.

Killers receives 0.5/5

Saturday
May152010

Just Wright

When you watch a romantic comedy, you expect certain things. You expect an unlikely pair to fall in love. You expect a misunderstanding to create drama. You expect montages to show a passage of time. But rarely do you see a movie as traditional and formulaic as Just Wright, the latest rom-com clone to puke its way onto movie screens.

The film takes place in New Jersey and stars Queen Latifah as Leslie Wright, a physical therapist who, along with her friend and roommate Morgan, played by Paula Patton, is looking for a husband. The problem is neither have found the right guy. Leslie wants a traditional man, someone who can love and protect her. She doesn’t care about stature or money. Morgan, on the other hand, is planning on bagging an NBA star from their local team, the New Jersey Nets. After an encounter at a gas station, the two are invited to a birthday party for the Nets’ star player, Scott McKnight, played by Common, who quickly falls for Morgan and asks her to marry him, but after a crippling injury that threatens the future of his career, Morgan bails and Leslie finds herself a live in therapist who plans on having him ready to play in the upcoming playoffs.

It’s not that the cutely titled Just Wright is unbelievable, because I could see how a charmer like Queen Latifah could win over a big time NBA star with a heart of gold, it’s just that the road the film takes to its inevitable conclusion is paved with every trick of the romantic comedy trade. It plays a familiar tune from beginning to end and strains your patience.

One of the biggest pratfalls of many romantic comedies is that the drama is something that the audience can’t relate to. The problems are sometimes so wrought with trivial matters that it creates a significant separation between the characters and the viewer. Just Wright, not surprisingly, lands the same fate. Outside of the romantic angle, the largest dramatic arc the film takes is the question of whether or not Scott will be able to play in the NBA again after tearing an important ligament in his knee. His contract is closing soon and he will become a free agent, but if he can’t get better by the playoffs, the league may become uninterested in him. Well, so what? He’s a millionaire, adored by the public and regardless of whether or not he can play basketball again, he’ll be just fine. Worse tragedies have occurred in the history of mankind. Suck it up Scott.

Many romances hinge on the drama, but another important aspect that this film similarly fails on is the chemistry between the two leads. Though Queen Latifah has always been likable, she’s dragged down by Common who couldn’t act his way out of a box. His past experience in films like Wanted, Terminator Salvation and Smokin’ Aces has given him little to do but stand around and scowl. Here he’s expected to emit something, anything really, but he can’t. Every smile looks forced and every line of dialogue comes out flat. The only compliment I can give him is that he has good form when shooting a jump shot.

I try not to be too grouchy when it comes to these types of movies, but I’ve become so burdened with watching this tripe that I can only take so much. Even the little things start to get to me. In one annoying example of trying to be cute, Scott feeds Leslie chicken noodle soup when she's sick. Well, that’s the thing. She has a cold. She’s not dying. She can lift the spoon herself. Gag worthy moments like this cluttered Just Wright and by the time the credits rolled, I felt sick myself.

Just Wright receives 1/5

Friday
May142010

Letters to Juliet

I don’t have any statistics to back me up, but I’m fairly certain the most abundant genre of film is the romantic comedy. It seems every couple of weeks I’m sitting through one. I also (again with no statistics) believe it fares the poorest. No other genre manages to be as tired as the traditional rom-com. Most merely come up with some far fetched, arbitrary scenario that set it up as unique, but the stories always follow suit. Letters to Juliet is the latest of these examples.

It’s the story of a girl named Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) who is on her way to Italy with her chef fiancé, but once there, his passion for cooking overtakes him and they end up spending their visit apart. While he is off learning the secrets of Italian cuisine, she makes her way to a courtyard where people seek love advice through writing letters to Juliet, one half of the fictional duo Romeo & Juliet. She becomes intrigued by the thought and eventually joins up with a local group of gals who write back, dubbed the “secretaries” of Juliet. But when she returns a letter written 50 years ago, she finds herself face to face with the writer, Claire (Vanessa Redgrave) and her less enthusiastic grandson Charlie (Christopher Egan) and embarks on a journey with her to find her one true love.

Really, Letters to Juliet is two stories in one. One is really terrific and the other is painful. Claire’s story of everlasting love, even after being apart for 50 years, is a wonder to behold and Redgrave gives a performance that will instantly consume you. She’s radiant in the role. The other story—the oh so obvious “will she or won’t she fall in love with the handsome grandson?”—is a disaster of proportions I haven’t seen in quite some time. Unfortunately, it’s the centerpiece of the film.

Outside of the unbelievable lack of chemistry between the two stars, the love that develops between Sophie and Charlie feels inauthentic and forced. Charlie, for starters, is a maniacal, self absorbed jerk. The venomous words he spews at Sophie upon first meeting are things you wouldn’t hear life long enemies say to each other. He has become so upset that she wrote back to his grandmother that he holds her in contempt, constantly using his uppity British persona to degrade her at every chance he gets. He’s one of the most unpleasant leading characters I’ve ever seen in a romantic comedy.

Yet she falls for him. If there was ever an argument that girls are into jerks (which you’ll hear occasionally from so called “nice guys”), this is it. Naturally, he changes his tune once he realizes he loves her back, but the flip is sudden with no hint at previous interest. It happened as quickly as a snap of the finger and we’re supposed to buy it. I don’t think so.

It’s really a shame because the underlying story of Claire truly is charming. Had the stories been flipped, Claire’s being the more prominent, I would most likely be giving out a recommendation. But if that story were taken away, you’d be stuck with a handful of decent chuckles and little else.

It’s an odd concoction, a marvelous tale that celebrates love mixed with an abomination that bastardizes it, but there’s simply no other way to describe Letters to Juliet.

Letters to Juliet receives 2/5

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