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|Written by April Yorke|
|Thursday, 31 January 2008 19:00|
For years now, critics have been bemoaning the death of the romantic movie. It isn’t that the genre has slipped away, unlike, say, the screwball comedy. It’s that romances have ceased to be worthwhile pursuits. Simply put: they suck. Why they suck remains a question of some debate.
27 Dresses kicked 2008 off right. The lie, as it sometimes does, involved an error in casting. We were meant to believe that simply by dyeing her hair a shade of light brown, Katherine Heigl’s statuesque beauty could go unnoticed by Ed Burns. It’s insulting to brunettes and in no way plausible. That lady is hot, and that’s all there is to it. We were also supposed to accept the idea that there is a woman on this earth that would submit to the time and expense of being a bridesmaid twenty seven times over. Sure, it’s an exaggeration for comedic effect. It’s also one that screams, “I AM AN EXAGGERATION FOR COMEDIC EFFECT!!!!” If you are going to go that far, you might as well call it 57 Dresses or 367 Dresses. As winsome as Heigl and James Marsden are, it’s all a little too much to bear.
This February will offer a bumper crop of unbearable, unbelievable romances to maintain the status quo. February 1st brings us Over Her Dead Body, in which a ghost (Eva Longoria) sets out to break up her living lover (Paul Rudd) and his psychic girlfriend (Lake Bell). Even if we leave out the already incredulity straining ghost/psychic angle, Body also expects us to forget about a similar recent rom-com, Just Like Heaven (not to mention the vastly superior Truly Madly Deeply). Although anchored by better-than-their-material performances by Reese Witherspoon and Mark Ruffalo, Just Like Heaven flopped. Aside from Rudd, this movie doesn’t seem to have enough going for it to make it over the hurdles set up by its own strange premise.
The 8th plans to reinforce the same “brunette = fug” notion put forth in Dresses with (somebody save me) The Hottie and the Nottie. This movie wants us to believe that this woman is in any way less desirable or attractive than Paris Hilton of all people. To do so, they had to dye Christine Lakin’s hair dark brown, cover her face and body in spots, and clad her in baggie clothes. None of that can stop Paris from coming off as the more synthetic of the two. Once again, the movie’s premise is based on too many lies to make it palatable.
Definitely, Maybe arrives in theatres on February 15th on a hotbed of lies plainly spelled out in its trailer. Who is Ryan Reynolds getting a divorce from if not the mother of his child? Why doesn’t Abigail Breslin have a relationship with her mother? What’s the point of lying about the names and facts of his three most significant relationships? Was he sleeping with all of them at approximately the same time in order to make it even remotely possible that any of the three could be her mother? Can Reynolds stop being smug long enough for this movie to work? If a trailer pushes you into this much wild speculation, it’s not good. To be honest, if it goes beyond “Oh, I wonder what will happen,” chances are slim that all or any of your questions will be answered in the film. All you have to go on is its lies.
February 22 will provide a nice change of pace with a romantic horror-thriller about a bad seed (Lee Pace) who wakes up from acoma believing he is his brother (Michael Landes), much to the shock of his brother’s wife (Sarah Michelle Gellar). While the thriller angle is a refreshing change from the rest of February’s romances, it doesn’t give us a break from the beyond -believable premises. The movie can’t even get its own name straight, with IMDb calling it Possession and the trailer referring to the movie as Addicted. Whatever the title, we’re still forced to accept the body-switcheroo premise (or is he faking it, Birth-style?), the possibility that we’re still interested in J-horror remakes (they’re played out) and Pace as a tattooed, violent, smoking bad boy. Actually, while he may be best known for his soft, comedic pie-maker on Pushing Daisies, Pace is a Julliard-trained dramatic actor. He may well end up being the most believable part of the entire endeavour.
February’s final Friday, the 29th, brings us two romances: the costume drama The Other Boleyn Girl and the contemporary fairytale Penelope. The former pits Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman as Mary and Anne Boleyn, respectively, sisters who turn into rivals over Henry VIII (Eric Bana)’s affections. If the trailer is anything to go by, Johansson will give the same somnambulist performance she’s brought to nearly every movie since Lost in Translation. The latter movie has a much better chance at success, co-starring Christina Ricci with it-boy James McAvoy and difficult-to-beat Reese Witherspoon. Besides, a girl with a pig’s snout is much easier to believe than the possibility of two sisters going after the same man with such ruthlessness, never mind those sisters looking like Johansson and Portman.
This year’s February releases will bring us yet another circle of lies. We’ve got body switches, dead girls, brunettes, human-swine hybrids, and Ryan Reynolds. The possibility exists that every one of these movies will do well at the box office. The possibility of any of them being worthwhile as a romance is severely diminished. We need to circle back to a time when movies with far out premises still worked as romances. The Apartment is one of the greatest romanticcomedies ever committed to celluloid, and the story uses a girl’s suicide and consequent confinement to a young man’s apartment as the springboard for romance. Part of the reason it works is the time spent setting up the premise of Jack Lemmon lending out his apartment in order to advance at work, his interest in Shirley MacLaine, and her interest in him. It’s there before she takes those pills and not just in glances and quick cuts. It’s there in conversations and scene upon scene. They do well to keep her interested in him throughout, instead of having it suddenly appear. He may be using his apartment for less than honourable reasons and she may be having an affair with his married boss, but the movie doesn’t depend on those lies to propel the action or bring it to its climax. It depends on their relationship with one another.
The same thing happens in When Harry Met Sally . . ., and it’s also why a movie with such a strange, almost depressing premise (two people bonding over the end of their long term relationships) works so well. They take the time to slowly build the romance between the characters instead of piling on lies in order to keep them apart. In both The Apartment and When Harry Met Sally . . ., the audience is glad when these two sets of friends finally get together. In movies like The Hottie and the Nottie, you’ll just be glad it’s over.