Posts tagged ‘Rom-com’

[Note: this is the first film in my 2016 Blind Spot series. For a list of the other well-known or well-respected films I’m going to be watching for the first time this year see this post.]

Today Rob Reiner’s When Harry Met Sally, which features an Oscar-nominated original screenplay by the late Nora Ephron, is seen as a kind of touchstone for the romantic comedy genre. It was well-received when it appeared in 1989, too, filling cinemas despite being up against two of the year’s biggest blockbusters (Batman and Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade). Critics were mostly forthcoming with praise, with Roger Ebert claiming that Reiner was ‘one of Hollywood’s very best directors of comedy’, a statement I wouldn’t dispute nearly 30 years later. It may not be on a par with his earlier masterpiece This Is Spinal Tap, but When Harry Met Sally is a thoroughly enjoyable hour-and-a-half nonetheless, with Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan in career-defining roles as the will-they, won’t-they couple at the heart of the story.

The two share chemistry from the off. The lengthy (and excellent) prologue shows them meeting and travelling from Chicago to New York, with their individual characteristics firmly established within five minutes. Crystal’s motormouth Harry is a borderline offensive provocateur, and has more than a touch of boyish arrogance, while his dark(ish) ramblings and opinionated nature mask a few obvious insecurities. Ryan’s Sally by contrast is prim and proper, a little bit ditzy, but quick to stand up for herself and keen to establish equal footing in the face of Harry’s attempted dominance: so when he raises the topic of sexual experience because he knows it’s likely he’s got more of it, she gives him short shrift and bluntly rejects his come on. Once their faults and idiosyncracies are established the subsequent meet-cutes develop quirks just as much as they highlight mutual attraction, though the pair are initially hampered as they’re in relationships with other people; years pass quickly but fate keeps bringing the two together in ways that are easier to accept in a romantic comedy than they would be in, say, a serious romantic drama. In between these chapters we see faux interviews with couples who have supposedly been together for a long time, and these vignettes are delivered in mock-documentary style straight to camera. Ephron’s script is at its sharpest when it’s gently taking the mickey out of coupledom and suitability, and never more so than during these brief scenes, in which unnamed men and women trade telling glances or finish one another’s sentences.

Reiner’s film settles eventually on the year 1988, and New York, and that’s when we get the famous scene in which Sally fakes an orgasm in front of the customers of a packed Katz’s Delicatessen. It’s quite tame by today’s standards, but I remember the era well enough to know how risqué the scene was for the time, and the same can be said for some of the franker discussions about sex and marital life that take place elswhere in the film. When it comes to these Ephron’s script has a flavour of Woody Allen’s New York-set romances about it, and the shadow of Allen looms large over other aspects of the film, with regard to the trad jazz soundtrack, the design of the credits, the use of Casablanca, the characters and the setting (though I would hasten to add it’s not like he has any kind of exclusivity rights in place when it comes to fast-talking New Yorkers or Central Park). I’ve seen comments that suggest When Harry Met Sally is like an Allen film with all the hard edges smoothed over to make it more palatable for mainstream audiences, though I think that’s unfair on Ephron, Reiner and the performers, all of whom did good work here.

I doubt I’ll return to watch it again in the future, and I’ve found plenty of other rom-coms funnier over the years, but I still enjoyed When Harry Met Sally and can see it’s importance in terms of the rom-com genre, as well as its influence. The two lead actors deliver Ephron’s amusingly cynical lines about love and modern relationships with some fine comic timing, and there’s some neat support by Carrie Fisher and Bruno Kirby too, even though they’re playing a completely unlikely couple. I was surprised to find that the screenplay actually kept me guessing right up to the very end, which was a bonus as I think it just starts to run a little short on laughs after the 70 minute mark. Up to that point, though, it delivers more than enough.

Directed by: Rob Reiner.
Written by: Nora Ephron.
Starring: Meg Ryan, Billy Crystal, Carrie Fisher, Bruno Kirby.
Cinematography: Barry Sonnenfeld.
Editing: Robert Leighton.
Marc Shaiman, Harry Connick, Jr, Various.
Running Time:
96 minutes.


magicinthemoonlight1This Woody Allen rom-com slipped out while I was on holiday in 2014 (you blink and you miss ’em these days) and can best be described as Allen-by-numbers, by which I mean that committed fans will enjoy it while being aware throughout that he can do better: typically there’s plenty of attention paid to period detail and its characters share a few droll exchanges, but it’s probably for the best if your expectations are low. Emma Stone appears to be Allen’s young actress of choice these days, and here she plays an American medium, who may or may not be genuinely gifted; opposite her is Colin Firth’s stuffy English illusionist, a man who prides himself in his ability to expose fake spirit guides (the joke being that he performs on stage in an unlikely guise as a Chinese man by the name of Wei Ling Soo).

Much of it is par-for-the-course, especially with regard to Allen’s late period European love affair: the characters are resolutely upper class; it features a young American abroad; the tone is light and frothy; marriages (both existing and potential) amicably dissolve at the drop of a hat when an older man (Firth standing in for Allen) falls in love with a younger woman; the setting (the south of France) certainly looks great but is once again a one-eyed vision of Europe that eventually seems as dull as a travel brochure; and there are virtually no local people in the story (a couple of people who speak zee Franglais wiz zee French accentz aside). Still, if you can stifle the yawns there are things to enjoy: Firth and Stone share some chemistry and raise a couple of laughs during one witty scene heavy in phallic symbolism set in an observatory; and when Allen really loves his leading lady, as is the case here, he and his cinematographer (the reliably excellent Darius Khondji) certainly pull out all the stops in order to make her look good. The supporting characters, an underwritten mixture of foppish twits and wily old beans, are almost instantly forgettable, which is a shame considering the presence of excellent actors like Marcia Gay Harden and Jacki Weaver, but Firth is obviously adept at playing English toffs and he and Stone manage to carry Magic In The Moonlight over the finishing line. Not bad, but often more tiresome than it is funny.

Directed by: Woody Allen.
Written by: Woody Allen.
Starring: Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Hamish Linklater, Marcia Gay Harden, Jacki Weaver, Erica Leehrsen, Eileen Atkins, Simon McBurney.
Cinematography: Darius Khondji.
Editing: Alisa Lepselter.
Music: Various.
Running Time:
97 minutes.


Though this romantic comedy has been described as mumblecore pioneer Andrew Bujalski’s move from lo-lo-lo-lo-fi indie filmmaking to something approaching mainstream cinema it’s his first film to feature well-known professional actors, for example, and clearly cost more to make than anything else he has produced it’s still refreshingly different to most of the other movies clogging up the market in this tired old genre. What we have is a love triangle, of sorts, involving personal trainer Kat (Cobie Smulders), her health freak boss Trevor (Guy Pearce, reverting to his real accent despite the Austin, Texas setting) and their mutual client Danny (Kevin Corrigan), a newly-divorced and unfit guy who has recently and unexpectedly inherited millions of dollars following the death of his estranged mother. The film explores Kat’s relationships with the two men, and the strange health and money-related relationship that forms between Danny and Trevor.

A lot of people will be put off by the pace of Results, or perhaps by the fact that its writer and director steadfastly avoids some (but not all) of the genre’s conventions, ensuring that some may experience discomfort at no longer being in Kansas. The film plods along, slowly but surely, and Bujalski eschews traditional dynamics between the three main characters: most other rom-coms featuring two men and a women would pit one likable guy against one barely-likeable guy and the lady would eventually choose the partner that the majority of audience members will be rooting for (see Bridget Jones’ Diary, High Fidelity, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, The Philadelphia Story et al); that’s not the photo_04-695x397case here. Although Trevor’s extreme dedication to healthy lifestyles means he spouts all manner of risible motivational bullshit inside his own gym, he’s essentially a decent and honest guy. And so is Danny, a man who is trying to expand his social circle while also coming to terms with the break-up of his marriage and the unhappiness that comes with his new-found wealth. The intense, irascible Kat is younger than both men, but is seemingly pressured by her age and the idea that she should be out having casual sex that leads nowhere, and is thus unwilling at first to commit to a relationship with either suitor. So where most rom-coms have a principal focus on one party of the potential romance, here there’s equal weight given to all three; as such even as the film enters the final act you’re never quite sure how it’s going to turn out, which is a rarity, and it feels more realistic than the usual fayre we see.

Bujalski shares the same level of interest in his characters and their lives as Richard Linklater, and several ten minute periods drift by where they’re just talking in rooms together, shooting the breeze while nothing much happens. It’s a little self-indulgent, and you may find yourself checking your watch at times, but it does mean that all three feel like well-rounded and believable characters by the end (although the one supporting role, filled by Giovanni Ribisi, feels distinctly underwritten by comparison). It’s not a distinctly funny film, by any means, and it lacks some of the idiosyncratic touches of Bujalski’s earlier work (though there are some), but Results has a certain peculiar charm and it has been a while since I’ve been surprised by the plot of a romantic comedy (though I’m not suggesting there are extreme and unexpected left turns here). As a tentative first step into Hollywood it bodes well, but this director may have to compromise certain aspects of his style if he subsequently decides to jump right in. And it’s nice to see Anthony Michael Hall pop up, albeit briefly.

Directed by: Andrew Bujalski.
Written by: Andrew Bujalski.
Starring: Guy Pearce, Cobie Smulders, Kevin Corrigan, Giovanni Ribisi.
Cinematography: Matthias Grunsky.
Editing: Robin Schwartz.
Music: Justin Rice.
Certificate: 12A.
Running Time: 105 minutes.
Year: 2015.


Jason-Segel-Forgetting-Sarah-MarshallI have Tom over at Digital Shortbread to thank for persuading me to watch this rom-com by Nicholas Stoller, a director and writer who has become something of a stalwart within the World Of Apatow during the past decade. Forgetting Sarah Marshall is one of the better comedies of the last ten years, despite the plot being as predictable as they come, and it features charming performances by its principal cast members, who are thankfully on good comic form to boot. Chief among these is the likeable Jason Segel, playing everyman musician Peter Bretter; unceremoniously dumped by his long-term partner Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell), an actor on a popular primetime TV show called Crime Scene: Scene Of The Crime, Peter is left to wallow in his own misery, burning photographs by day and crying into his cereal at night. After five years together Sarah has grown tired of his slovenliness, but the main reason for the split is her fling with pompous lothario Aldous Snow (Russell Brand), an English rock star peddling insincere ditties about the environment. Persuaded by his step-brother Brian (Bill Hader) to take a vacation, Peter flies to Hawaii and finds in one of the unlikeliest plot twists I’ve ever witnessed  that both Sarah and Aldous are staying at the same resort.

Of course as soon as Peter claps eyes on Mila Kunis’ hotel receptionist Rachel the rest of the hotel-set story is instantly obvious, but at least there are sustained laughs as it plays out. Penned by Segel himself, the screenplay is big on self-deprecating humour and has fun at the expense of its male characters, but unfortunately the female characters suffer a little alongside them: those played by Bell and Kunis are mainly there in order to make Peter feel bad / feel better about himself / feel bad again / feel better about himself again, but at least Bell features in the brief but note-perfect CSI: Miami-style spoofs, which also feature cameos from William Baldwin and Jason Bateman. There’s also quite a lot of improvisation, by the looks of things, and comedian Brand in particular seizes the opportunity; I don’t particularly like the guy, and I was initially put off from watching Forgetting Sarah Marshall because he’s (a) in it, and (b) he’s playing a version of his own public persona, but I can’t deny that he’s amusing at times and I was surprised that he actually reigns in the hair flicks and bug-eyed stares seen elsewhere.

Brand’s Snow could easily have been the out-and-out villain of the piece, but Segel takes a gamble and allows us to witness the character’s pleasant, friendly side: poor old Peter looks lost and lonely at dinner, for example, and even though it’s excruciatingly embarassing Snow’s attempts to include him in a (non-sexual) threesome are genuine and well-intended. There are slightly-funnier-than-average roles for Apatowland regulars Paul Rudd, Jack McBrayer and Jonah Hill too, the former a half-baked surf teacher, the second a newlywed husband struggling to deal with the finer points of sexual intercourse and the latter a hotel waiter who can barely hide his obsession with Aldous Snow. Granted the recurring appearances of such actors (as well as Hader) in the various films produced by, written by or directed by Apatow often borders on the smugly self-congratulatory, despite their individual talents, but Stoller keeps the focus on his leading foursome and the film’s all the better for it. The romantic drama is very much by the book, and as simple as it gets, but there’s enough around the edges Peter’s rock opera about the life of Dracula, for example to ensure the laughs keep coming, while the chemistry shared between Segel and Kunis ensures that their characters’ mutual attraction seems just about plausible.

Directed by: Nicholas Stoller.
Written by: Jason Segel.
Starring: Jason Segel, Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis, Russell Brand, Bill Hader, Paul Rudd, Jonah Hill, Jack McBrayer.
Cinematography: Russ T. Alsobrook.
Editing: William Kerr.
Music: Lyle Workman.
Certificate: 15.
Running Time: 112 minutes.
Year: 2008.


Jack (Simon Pegg) and Nancy (Lake Bell) in Ben Palmer’s Man UpIf you are a fan of the kind of films written (and more recently directed by) Richard Curtis, then chances are you’ll enjoy Man Up, an inoffensive but formulaic British rom-com penned by Tess Morris and directed by Ben Palmer (who previously made The Inbetweeners Movie). The screenplay has that mildly-risqué style that has been popular ever since Hugh Grant said a few f-words in Four Weddings And A Funeral, while Man Up‘s London setting and supposedly endearing middle class characters hint that there’s no greater ambition than for the film to attract the same audience that sat through Sliding Doors, Wimbledon, Bridget Jones’s Diary, Notting Hill and Love Actually.

American Lake Bell plays English protagonist Nancy, a writer in her mid-30s who is initially put forward as a kind of permanently-single dating disaster zone (though we later learn that she is actually smart, funny and was in a relationship for most of her 20s). Encouraged by her sister Elaine (Sharon Horgan, whose comedic talents are unfortunately wasted in a straight role) and a well-meaning but prissy stranger on a train (Ophelia Lovibond), Nancy resolves to ‘put herself out there’ and carpe one or two diems lest she remain alone until the end of time. And so she does just that, bumping into Simon Pegg’s divorcee Jack at Waterloo Station soon thereafter and playing along mischievously when he mistakenly assumes that she is supposed to be his blind date. Cue nervy chatter as they travel across London (the South Bank, the Bloomsbury Bowling Lanes, a bar) and lots of fibbing as Nancy attempts to keep up appearances.

Given its strict adherence to genre staples it’ll come as no surprise that the couple hit it off, go through a few ups and downs during the course of the film (which covers the duration of their first evening together) and reconcile at the end in time for a bright-looking future. There are a few laughs to be had along the way, particularly when Jack’s uptight ex (Olivia Coleman) shows up with her new partner (Stephen Campbell Moore), and also with regards to Nancy’s identity theft and the whole dating merry-go-round, but perhaps not enough for Man Up to be cherished in the long run by the masses. However, like the more successful British films of recent years, the mix of gentle ribbing (albeit with the occasional blowjob joke thrown in) and stuttery self-deprecation appears to be tailored with the grey pound in mind, and indeed most of the older folk in the screening I attended were regularly chuckling away.

Typically the cast is fleshed out with one or two more eccentric characters, and here both Ken Stott and Rory Kinnear try to make the most of their time on screen as Nancy’s boozy father and a former-classmate-turned-stalker respectively. In terms of the two leads Bell is likeable enough as the sarcastic Nancy, and her English accent is perfect, while Pegg delivers another nervy geek (albeit with a slightly-damaged, middle-aged spin). The question is whether we really need to see yet another rom-com in which the woman breaks the fourth wall while supposedly sitting in front of a mirror, the declaration of love at the end takes place in front of a big crowd of people and all of the roguish older characters appear to have wandered over from the set of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Personally I don’t think we do, but obviously this kind of film is usually profitable, is generally liked by audiences, and no doubt we can expect more long after this effort has found a more natural home on DVD and TV. Man Up has a few witty moments, which are executed professionally, but it never tries to do anything other than replicate the lighthearted fun of successful, recent British comedies, and as such I don’t feel too enthusiastic about it.

Directed by: Ben Palmer.
Written by: Tess Morris.
Starring: Lake Bell, Simon Pegg, Rory Kinnear, Ophelia Lovibond, Ken Stott, Sharon Horgan, Harriet Walter.
Cinematography: Andrew Dunn.
Editing: Paul Machliss.
Music: Dickon Hinchlciffe, Various.
Certificate: 15.
Running Time: 88 minutes.
Year: 2015.
Rating: 4.4.



L’Arnacoeur (English: Heartbreaker), a French romantic comedy from 2010, was a surprise hit at the box office across French-speaking Europe, and predictably a US remake is in the pipeline. The film focuses on a business run by attractive, charming Alex (Romain Duris, who you may recognise as the star of Jacques Audiard’s superb 2005 breakthrough film De Battre Mon Cœur S’est Arrêté (The Beat That My Heart Skipped)) along with his sister Mélanie (Julie Ferrier) and her husband Marc (François Damiens); the trio provide a service for concerned third-party clients who wish to see relationships broken up where the woman involved is “not knowingly unhappy”.

A light-hearted opening sequence clarifies just what that means. A young couple is on holiday in Africa. The man in the relationship is keen to while away his time drinking by the pool and leering at other women, whereas the woman in the relationship wants to see the sights of the desert and experience the natural world (I think they sound perfectly suited, but hey, what do I know?). Someone, somewhere has decided that they are ill-suited as a pair, and has paid Alex, Mélanie and Marc a sum of money to break the couple up. Marc and Mélanie operate in the background, gathering information and concocting outlandish ruses and coincidences. Alex’s job, meanwhile, is to make the woman fall in love with him; not quite enough to fully cheat on their partner, of course, but just enough to give the woman in question food for thought.

Despite the business appearing to be a successful one, the trio are inexplicably close to being declared bankrupt, and on top of that Alex owes a substantial sum to a loan shark, so when a wealthy gangster named Van der Becq (Jacques Frantz) comes along with a request that will banish their financial worries, they gleefully accept the work. Van der Becq wishes to see his daughter Juliette (Vanessa Paradis) separated from her English fiance Jonathan (Andrew Lincoln, who filmed this just before his star turn as Sheriff Rick Grimes in The Walking Dead first aired on TV). The trouble is Juliette and Jonathan are extremely happy together, and the couple are due to get married in five days. Alex sets himself up as Juliette’s bodyguard, and against his principles, tries to charm Juliette and break the couple up.

Throughout this film, which is filled with lighthearted whimsy, farce and slapstick, I felt sorry for the Jonathan character. He has seemingly done nothing wrong to deserve this kind of interference, and rather than take the easy way out and paint him in a bad light, Pascal Chaumeil’s film does exactly the opposite, and stresses on several occasions the quality of the man’s character. We see him give unwanted food to homeless people, and hear of both his success in life and philanthropic pursuits. But he’s not a rich, arrogant type, and he’s not even remotely smarmy … whenever he appears on screen he seems a likeable, reasonable chap.

Now, I can’t say this with any degree of certainty, and I may be a little paranoid here, but my fear is that the fact the character is an Englishman was enough for French audiences to withdraw all of their sympathy for the guy, which is necessary for the film to work as a straightforward crowd-pleasing rom-com. You can pretty much guarantee now that in the US remake the character will have some kind of flaw in order to make him unlikable. Perhaps he’ll be seen slapping the female lead at one point, or he’ll cheat on her. Enough to make you think “ah, fuck him, the douchebag” while Alex goes about seducing his wife-to-be. Or maybe they’ll just keep the fact he’s English as the sole reason to dislike the guy and cast Alan Rickman.

Good old Rick Grimes is kept off screen for much of the film, so it’s not like he’s permanently in the background bumming you out every time you start to smirk at the antics of Alex, Marc and Mélanie, but still: there’s this constant, nagging feeling that films like this don’t usually do the dirty to someone who doesn’t deserve it in the slightest. I’m actually surprised that I’m not thinking “You know what? It makes a nice change to see a good guy get royally fucked over in a rom-com.” It just feels weird.

The humour is kept light, and the jokes are largely so-so, some fairly amusing, some not-so-strong. Marc and Mélanie are at their best when squabbling with each other, and there are some laughs mined from repetitive jokes about Mélanie’s jobs when working undercover in a hotel. Echoing Groundhog Day, the central male character has to learn all the likes and interests of the female character through a process of trial and error in order to seduce them (in this case it’s wine, cheese, George Michael and Dirty Dancing), but references to these just crop up every so often and L’Arnacoeur feels a little anaemic when compared to the expertly-crafted repetition and pacing of Harold Ramis’s masterpiece. But then, so do most comedies.

Paradis plays Juliette straight, but the character is quite cold and hard, and it’s tough to really care about her plight, even when she finally and predictably realises that life with Jonathan might not give her the excitement she craves. Duris is charming as Alex, on the other hand, and despite the fact he is a professional heartbreaker, he’s likeable enough.

There are times when the film begins to play with its audience a little, particularly with regard to rom-com conventions, and I found myself enjoying the final act a lot simply because I was waiting to see if it would go all the way and deliver an unhappy ending rather than the expected, usual happy denouement. An easy watch, with a few laughs and some OK performances, L’Arnacouer doesn’t exactly take the romantic comedy into new territory, but it has its moments and there’s believable chemistry between the leads. You can see why it was successful, but it doesn’t do enough to set itself aside from, or help to revive, what is fast-becoming a stagnant genre.

The Basics:

Directed by: Pascal Chaumeil
Written by: Laurent Zeitoun, Jeremy Doner, Yohan Gromb
Starring: Romain Duris, Vansessa Paradis, Julie Ferrier, Andrew Lincoln
Certificate: 15
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Year: 2010

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