Romantic Comedy

Love & Sex

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2000

Lions Gate

Directed and Written by Valerie Breiman

Produced by Martin J. Barab, Darris Hatch and Brad Wyman

Either I’m getting old, soft in the head or just downright developing a conscience. That’s the only thing that can explain my sitting down to actually watch a romantic comedy. And on top of that, liking it a whole lot more than I thought I would. But I’ll be upfront here; the leads are played by Famke Janssen and Jon Favreau. Famke Janssen you’ll know for two outstanding movie characters. She was one of James Bond’s more memorable villains; the beautiful Xenia Onatopp in “GoldenEye” who delighted in squeezing men to death between her thighs while having sex. And she played the telepathic/telekinetic mutant superhero Jean Gray in the “X-Men” movies. Jon Favreau has made quite the reputation for himself as a dependable and extremely talented actor/director. Everybody knows him from his roles in “Swingers” and “Made” and he directed the megahits “Iron Man” and “Iron Man 2.” So it was more my curiosity in seeing just what the two of them were doing in a romantic comedy more than anything else that led me to check out LOVE & SEX.

Kate Welles (Famke Janssen) is a writer for the magazine ‘Monique’ and she’s suffering a creative crisis. She’s supposed to write an article about how to find and fall in love with the right man. A perky, happy article. The best she can come up with is 2500 words comparing romantic relationships to blow jobs. In her words: “It’s only the suckee that benefits. The sucker is left depressed.” Her editor doesn’t want to hear it and says if Kate can’t come up with something a tad more cheerfully readable by 5PM, she’s fired. Kate’s struggle to write the article triggers her memories of her past relationships that we’re allowed to share.

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The relationship that really matters is the one she had with Adam Levy (Jon Favreau) an artist of decidedly bizarre talent. One of his paintings depicts a bleeding woman pulling a severed head out of her ass. And that’s one of his milder pieces. But Kate is attracted to him right off and they begin a truly touching and funny relationship that had me chuckling all throughout the movie and even laughing out loud several times. It’s love at first sight for the both of them but can it last? The movie is told through Kate’s eyes and she’s just as hard on herself as she is on Adam. They’re great together but both of them become too obsessed with wondering if they’ll still be madly in love with each other years from now. It struck me halfway through this movie that Adam and Kate are like a lot of people I know: they worry way too much about if they’re still going to be in love twenty-five years from now instead of enjoying being in love today.

I like Famke Janssen a lot in this movie. She’s not all glamorously gorgeous here. She looks like most women I see during the day walking down the street. Her character is remarkably open and casual about her past sexual experimentation and freely admits to Adam she’s had 13 lovers in the past. Adam only having had two partners naturally feels inadequate. And despite what Adam says she refuses to apologize or made to feel slutty because of her choices. She realizes she uses sex to make herself feel better because she’s so desperately afraid of being alone but that’s her choice and she stands by it. Jon Favreau’s Adam is a character equally as quirky and interesting as Janssen’s. I really liked the scene where he shows he’s a standup guy when Kate tells him she’s pregnant and his actions during a later tragedy are quietly moving.

But eventually the breakup comes. Adam and Kate go their separate ways for a time to try and find out if they’re really in love or not. The funniest part of this sequence comes from Kate’s dating action movie star Joey Santino (Josh Hopkins) who just happens to be one of Adam’s favorite actors. The sex is great with Joey but he’s got about as much brainpower as a head of cabbage. Kate tells him that he “just doesn’t get it.” Joey shrugs and goes one with life. He’s happy that he doesn’t get it. He’s content to live life for today. Kate worries about the fact that everybody today is going to die and nobody is going to remember them because everybody else is going to die.

It’s sequences like that in LOVE & SEX that reminded me a lot of Woody Allen’s work during the 1980’s. Famke Janssen’s character could easily be a female version of the neurotic persona Allen honed and perfected during that period. And both she and Jon Favreau are obviously having a fun time with the sharp dialog. It’s a nice little movie. Unpretentious and it doesn’t try to be the tearjerker of all time. And it’s nowhere near as predictable as other romantic comedies I’ve seen. It’s concerned more with telling a good story about some interesting characters instead being impressed with its own cuteness. LOVE & SEX is a movie I’m pleased to recommend as a more than satisfying Friday or Saturday night rental for you and your significant other. I think you’ll be as charmed by it as I was. It’s intelligent, funny and has its own unique heart. Enjoy.

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82 minutes

Rated R: for language and sexual situations. The f-word is thrown around a lot as well as other sexual slang so be warned.

Same Time, Next Year

Same Time Next Year

1978                           

Universal Pictures

Directed by Robert Mulligan

Produced by Walter Mirisch and Morton Gottlieb

Written by Bernard Slade based on his play

Romantic comedies are most definitely not my favorite genre of movie when I sit down to be entertained by a movie.  I’d rather go get a tooth pulled than have to sit through anything resembling a romantic comedy because when you talk about predictable story and overwrought acting, that’s the genre that specializes in that kinda stuff.  But even a stone-hearted boor such as myself has to admit that there have been a couple of movies in the genre that I have managed to sit through mainly because they’re somewhat different from the usual romantic comedy in terms of story and acting I submit for your approval SAME TIME, NEXT YEAR

George (Alan Alda) and Doris (Ellen Burstyn) are staying separately at the same California resort inn on the Monterey coast one weekend in 1951.  He’s there on business to do the taxes for a client who owns a winery and she’s there because her husband and her kids are visiting her mother-in-law and the mother-in-law cannot stand Doris who she thinks tricked her son into getting married. So Doris tells her husband she’s going to a Catholic retreat so he won’t worry about her being alone.  One night George and Doris are the only ones having dinner in the inn’s main dining room.  They look up, their eyes meet, they smile and before they know it, they’re having dessert and coffee and they talk.  And talk.  And talk.  And before they know it, it’s the next day, they’re waking up in each other’s arms and they’re in love.

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Neither one of them wants to leave their spouses.  They both have responsibilities to their children and the people they have back home.  So they hit on a novel arraignment: every year on the same weekend they’ll stay at the same inn in the same room and spend a weekend together.  And it’s an arraignment that lasts for 26 years through laughter, tragedy, good times and bad.

Now some might question the morality of this arraignment and see it as an endorsement of adultery.  And certainly George and Doris never even bring up the question of not starting the affair or breaking it up at any time during the movie.  And as we never see their spouses (we get to know them through the stories George and Doris tell) we can’t judge how those relationships are.  George and Doris appear to be happy and secure in their marriages and they don’t have a reason to be cheating.  But I think the movie is trying to show two people who if they had met under the right circumstances could have married and had an extremely happy and satisfying life together.  It’s like that old song says: “It’s sad to belong to someone else when the right one comes along.”

During the course of the movie we see how the couple grow and develop along with the changing attitudes of the country.  Doris goes from being a somewhat naïve suburban housewife to anti-Vietnam War protestor /middle-aged college student to sharp and confident businesswoman.  George starts out as a high strung, neurotic accountant who is comically unsure of himself, goes to 70’s therapy addict and finally ends up as a mature adult man who is able to see himself for what he is, deal with it and be happy.   It’s quite a range for both of the actors as they’re on screen every minute of the movie.  It was based on a play and the movie is virtually like a play since except for a few brief scenes that take place in the inn’s dining room and outside the cabin they stay in, the whole movie takes place indoors with just the two characters talking.

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Alan Alda’s performance at the beginning of the movie is the one thing that might make you want to stop watching the movie.  He really overacts badly during the scenes where Doris is having a baby and (no, it’s not his) and for a brief few minutes turns the movie from light romantic comedy to almost Jerry Lewis style nuttiness.  He’s much better in the later scenes where he’s playing an older, more sedate George, especially during a painful scene where George has to tell Doris why he has changed from a happy-go-lucky liberal democrat to an almost fascist, bitter Republican.

Ellen Burstyn is clearly the better actor of the two and she knows how to play this material for all it’s worth due to her experience in Neil Simon comedies as well as having done this play on Broadway and one of the best things about the movie is watching her character grow and develop.  It’s almost a history lesson on the woman’s movement from the 1950’s to the 1970’s watching Doris change fashions and attitudes.

SAME TIME, NEXT YEAR doesn’t have what I would call a conclusion.  Instead it has a resolution that some might find unbearably corny but I thought fitted the tone of the movie just right and was the only way that these two characters could have ended up.  It’s a sweet little movie that I think is probably closer in realism to how a lot of married people conduct affairs rather than the cutesy-poo convoluted over plotting of most romantic comedies.  The actors are good, the characters are likeable and I have to admit that by the ending credits when the theme song by Johnny Mathis and Jane Oliver swelled into full sentimental mode I found myself pretending I had something in my eye.

Rated PG

119 minutes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Silver Linings Playbook

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2012

The Weinstein Company

Screenplay and Directed by David O. Russell

Executive Producer: Jonathan Gordon

Produced by Bruce Cohen and Donna Gigliotti

Based on the novel “The Silver Linings Playbook” by Matthew Quick

The first twenty minutes or so into SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK I fidgeted, I admit it. But that’s because I couldn’t tell which way this movie was going to go with its characters or their story. I didn’t know much about this movie outside of that it starred Bradley Cooper and Robert DeNiro, who had previously worked together in “Limitless.” But it vaguely looked to me like a romantic comedy and I’m leery of that genre. Which I shouldn’t have been. I’ve watched romantic comedies like SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK that actually are intelligent, character-driven and don’t follow the silly, sappy paint-by-the-numbers plots of most romantic comedies. And this movie isn’t all comedy. There’s just as much drama as comedy here and the story goes in directions that can’t be anticipated because of the unpredictability of the characters. Even the ones who aren’t crazy.

After eight months of treatment for bipolar disorder in a mental health facility, Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) is released into the care of his parents (Robert DeNiro and Jacki Weaver). His intention is to get his life back on track and a large part of that is reconciling with his wife Nikki (Brea Bee) That’s a situation that is going to take a whole lot of work since Pat tried to beat to death the man Nikki was having an affair with and she has a restraining order against him. Pat attends his court mandated therapy sessions with Dr. Patel (Anupam Kher) and tries his best to stay out of trouble. But since he refuses to take his medication that leads him into several situations where it seems as if he may have to go back to the facility.

It’s through his friendship with Tiffany Maxwell (Jennifer Lawrence) whose emotional trauma following the death of her husband caused her to become addicted to sex that Pat sees an opportunity to communicate with Nikki. Tiffany agrees but only under the condition that Pat will be her partner in an upcoming dance competition. I would not dream of telling you how the outcome of a Philadelphia Eagles football game is tied into the dance competition. I’ll only say that it’s a nifty plot twist that I did not see coming and once it did I was grinning like a fool.

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And I guess that’s the main thing I can throw at you to recommend SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK: it’s determination not to be a typical romantic comedy. There is simply no way to predict how the movie will end and to enhance your enjoyment of it, I advise that you don’t even try. Our two main characters have certifiable mental/emotional problems but that doesn’t mean that everybody else in the movie is a model of stability, either. In fact, as I got more of an insight into the history of the relationship between Pat and his father I understood more and more why the father was so patient and understanding of his son’s problems.

The acting in this is top-notch. Bradley Cooper continues to be an interesting actor to watch develop. I enjoyed him in high-octane, big budget franchise movies such as the two “Hangover” movies and “The A-Team” and he’s proven that he can hold his own in character driven dramas such as “The Words.” Here in SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK he mixes comedy an drama and acquits himself well.

Jennifer Lawrence is flat out terrific in this one but so far I’ve loved her performance in everything she’s done. Even though I couldn’t stand “Winter’s Bone” I always recommend the movie based solely on the strength of her performance which is outstanding. Equally outstanding was her performance in “X-Men: First Class” and while I felt that “The Hunger Games” was just a so-so movie, again she gave the performance that made the whole movie worth watching.

Julia Stiles has a small role in this and I always enjoy seeing her work as she’s just plain fun to watch. I was disappointed that Chris Tucker didn’t have more to do as for once he actually gets to play a human being instead of a live-action cartoon as he usually does in movies like the awful “Rush Hour” series. Robert DeNiro can do no wrong in my eyes and I’m embarrassed to say that I went through the entire movie thinking that the wonderful Jacki Weaver was Sally Struthers until I saw her name in the end credits.

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So should you see SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK? If you want to see a romantic comedy-drama that doesn’t waste your time with boring idiot characters or a story you’ve seen played out in a dozen other romantic comedies, absolutely. It’s a great date movie. Enjoy.

Rated R

122 minutes

Safety Not Guaranteed

2012

FilmDistrict

Directed by Colin Trevorrow

Produced by Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass

Written by Derek Connolly

“Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. I have only done this once before. Safety not guaranteed.”

This is the newspaper advertisement that sets the story of SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED in motion.  This apparently was an actual ad placed in a California newspaper way back in 1997.  According to the guy who wrote the ad one of his his jobs at that newspaper was to come up with filler ads when the classified ads page came up short.  The SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED ad wasn’t one he came up with on the spot.  It’s the opening lines of his unfinished novel.  I intend to find out if he ever did write that novel if only to see if it’s anywhere near as clever and as fun as the movie.

Three reporters for a Seattle magazine are intrigued by the ad that appears in the newspaper in the small town of Ocean View and decide to investigate it to see if it’s a joke or what. Jeff Schwensen (Jake Johnson) talked his boss (Mary Lynn Rajskub) into the whole idea without telling her or his partners his real reason for wanting to go. He plans on reconnecting with a long lost girlfriend who lives there.  Arnau (Karan Soni) really doesn’t care one way or another as he’s only interning at the magazine to diversify his resume.  Darius Britt (Aubrey Plaza) lives with her widowed father (Jeff Garlin) and is way too young to be so cynical and disillusioned by life.

They stake out the P.O. Box stipulated in the ad and find the guy who placed it.  Kenneth Calloway (Mark Duplass) works as a clerk in a grocery store.  Jeff’s attempt to connect with Kenneth fails miserably but Darius has way more success. Mainly because she treats him with total seriousness.  So convincing is she that after a few tests he trusts her enough to accept her as a partner.  Kenneth says his purpose in going back in time is to prevent the death of his girlfriend Belinda (Kristen Bell).  This touches Darius in a way that begins to crack the stone that her heart has become.  Even if he’s nuts, he’s a romantic nut and what woman can resist that?  While Jeff is off romancing Liz (Jenica Bergere) and trying to rekindle that long ago relationship, Darius gets closer to Kenneth and slowly she begins to think that there’s a lot more to the story than they thought.

Take Kenneth’s insistence that he’s being monitored by the government.  Darius, Jeff and Arnau figure he’s just being paranoid.  Until it turns out that Kenneth actually is being followed by Honest-To-Will Smith Men In Black.  Kenneth also is building some kind of device of incredible sophistication in his garage if the designs and blueprints Darius sneaks a peek at are to be believed.  Kenneth also seems to have an exceptional level of technical knowledge for a grocery store clerk as well as mysterious access to huge amounts of cash. But on the other hand, Kenneth has no problem lying about everything and anything and he demonstrates an extremely volatile and even frightening temper. Darius is never sure if Kenneth actually can travel through time or if he’s just forgetting to take his meds every day.

Is Kenneth actually a time traveler?  Has he done it before and can he do it again?  And does the fact that Darius finds Belinda alive and well means that he actually does go back in time to prevent her from dying or is he dangerously deluded?

Although I went in thinking that SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED was a science fiction movie (and to be fair…there is a sci-fi element near the end) instead I found a romantic comedy.  But it’s not one of those disgustingly trite and shallow romcoms that are turned out with all the creativity and intelligence of a cheese sandwich.  The two love stories played out are both unique and delightful to watch. This is a romantic comedy that has actual characters who interact with each other and talk to each other and are not just acting and talking like idiots because the cards handed in by preview audiences said they prefer watching a move with idiots.

Most of my enjoyment of SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED came from Aubrey Plaza who is the second funniest cast member on NBC’s “Parks and Recreation.”  And if I have to tell you who is the funniest then you can just leave the room.  Aubrey Plaza has the best deadpan expression I’ve ever seen and she can say more with that expression and those wonderful eyes of her than other actors can with three pages of dialog.

Jake Johnson really surprised me in this movie as I only know him from Fox’s “New Girl” and here he plays a sleazy, sneaky character totally unlike the guy he plays in “New Girl.”  Matter of fact, there’s a lot of good work here from this cast of actors who I mostly know from television, such as Mary Lynn Rajskub who every week effortlessly stole scenes as CTU systems analyst Chloe O’Brian on Fox’s “24”and Kristen Bell who is still remembered more for her WB television series “Veronica Mars” than for any of her movies

So should you see SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED?  If you’re in the mood for a quirky, oddball romantic comedy that doesn’t adhere to the tired formula of the genre, I say give it try. I don’t think you’ll be sorry.

86 minutes

Rated R

 

The Seat Filler

2004

Magnolia Home Entertainment

Directed by Nick Castle

Executive Producers: Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith

Produced by Nia Hill, Duane Martin and D’Angela Steed

Written by Mark Brown, Duane Martin and Tisha Campbell-Brown

One of the best things about watching movies with my wife Patricia is the unpredictability of what she’ll pick for us to watch.  She’s not as snobbish about movies as I can be and will watch a movie she knows nothing about, has no idea who the director is, who wrote it, who the cinematographer is.  She just goes with her gut and says; “let’s watch this.”

Now in the case of THE SEAT FILLER you would most likely take it as a given that we watched it because it’s a romantic comedy with a predominately black cast.  And in this case, you’d be wrong.  ‘Cause if you’ve been hanging around me for any length of time you know that romantic comedies are on the bottom of my list when it comes to movie preferences and I don’t much care who’s in it.  But Patricia was intrigued by the title and asked me what a seat filler was.  After I explained the job of a seat filler, she wanted to see it.  And just in case anybody out there doesn’t know what a seat filler is, attend: seat fillers are hired to occupy empty seats vacated by celebrities at major award shows.  The purpose is to give the folks watching the event at home the impression that the audience is full.

I figured that any movie that provides me with the opportunity to ogle Kelly Rowland for 90 minutes with the permission of the wife can’t be all bad so I settled in.  And you know what?  At the end of those 90 minutes I had a pleased smile on my face as I ended up liking the movie a lot more than I thought I would.

Derrick Harver (Duane Martin) is a young, good-looking guy determined to make his dream of becoming a lawyer come true.  To pick up some extra money in order to continue his studies and help out his family, he takes a job as a seat filler along with his best friend/roommate E.J. (DeRay Davis).  It’s a steady gig since he lives in Hollywood and the movie’s main running gag is that there’s always some award show going on.

The number one rule of seat filling is to Never Talk To Celebrities.  But Derrick can’t help himself when the gorgeous up-and-coming pop singer Jhnelle (Kelly Rowland) is seated next to him.  They hit it off almost immediately and Jhnelle quite naturally assumes the tuxedoed, well-mannered, funny and charming Derrick is also a celebrity as well.  She has him checked out and in one of those cases of mistaken identity that is the pumping heart of so many romantic comedies, Jhnelle thinks he’s Alonzo Grant, hotshot entertainment lawyer.

Now if you’re like me, you’re saying; “So why doesn’t he just tell her she’s made a mistake?” It’s a question I usually ask myself when watching romantic comedies since if the people up on the screen would just talk to each other, the movie would be over with a lot sooner and I could get on with more important things.  And so Derrick romances Jhnelle, all the while trying to figure out a way to tell her who he really is

However, the sheer chemistry and likeability of the cast was enough for me to overlook that and just enjoy the movie.  I’ve always been a huge fan of Kelly Rowland and it’s an injustice she doesn’t have a bigger career as she’s far more talented and beautiful than most of the One Name Wonders pretending to be singers.  Along with Duane Martin they work at selling the story and the characters and it worked for me.  In supporting roles as the obligatory best friends of the lead actors, DeRay Davis and Melanie Brown (yep, Scary Spice herself) know what their role is in a movie of this type and act accordingly.  Although DeRay Davis does get a little out of control every once in a while, it’s not annoying and thankfully the movie doesn’t hold up the story for his hijinks.

Shemar Moore, Patrick Fischler and in a sneeze-and-you’ll-miss-him role Glynn Turman provide stable, solid support.

So should you see THE SEAT FILLER?  Why not?  It’s a nice little movie you and your significant other can snuggle up with and enjoy without guilt.  The contrivances of the plot get bent a little out of shape to drag out the mistaken identity bit but the movie has good intentions and that goes a long way with me.  And it’s always an added plus when I can find a movie with an African-American cast that doesn’t insult me with stereotypical ignorance.

90 minutes

PG-13