romantic comedy

Like Father (2018)

Like Father is a fine film if you have an hour and a half to spare and want to watch a sad, unfunny commercial for Royal Caribbean Cruises. Most of us don’t, but you’d be forgiven for trying since it keeps popping up on Netflix’s homepage and features bonafide stars and funny people Kristen Bell, Kelsey Grammer, and Seth Rogen. The script, penned by Lauren Miller Rogen, who also directs and co-produces, has its moments and is touching in unexpected ways but never manages to find the right tone or convince us that its characters are worth caring about

It would be more compelling as a stripped down play, but then you wouldn’t get the flashy sales pitch for Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Sea ship. Ultimately, the floating bar and the surf pool are less interesting than the woeful tale of a work-obsessed daughter and her estranged father. After she is left at the altar, Rachel (Bell) goes on a drunken bender with dad Harry (Grammer), whom she hasn’t seen since she was five, and before the two come to their senses, they’re on a boat. Since the trip is meant to be her honeymoon, Rachel is constantly mistaken for Harry’s wife instead of his daughter. The encounters are never funny, except for one riotous and very inappropriate joke during a newlywed game. Instead, they land with an embarrassing thud like most of the movie’s attempts at humor. Take, for example, Rachel and Harry’s shipmates, which include a chatty young gay couple, an agreeable middle-aged black couple, and a sparky retired pair. The purpose of such an eclectic group seems to be wider breadth for joke-telling, but the characters turn out to be tired, uninspired choices who act exactly the way you’d expect.

Perhaps the movie was aiming for something along the lines of The Big Sick, which balanced serious laughs with plain seriousness. There’s a story to be told about Rachel and Harry, and it turns out Harry’s business partner and a case of early onset Alzheimer’s. (Miller Rogen is an advocate for Alzheimer’s awareness and research.) Even Rogen, who has a small role as Rachel’s ship fling, Jeff, plays against type as a straightlaced teacher from Canada. He’s there less for the weed jokes and more to help Rachel come to terms with some pretty disappointing behavior. However, the film digs into the complicated father-daughter relationship too late in the game, wasting Bell and Grammer’s quietly heartbreaking performances.

When the emotional payoff finally comes, Rachel and Harry have already squandered the little good will they’ve built up. Neither are pleasant characters, but what’s more frustrating is the way Rachel pounces on her father in fits and starts. You can’t predict when she’ll rail at Harry for inserting himself back into her life and when she’ll casually agree to do karaoke with him. Follow through on your threats, girl. Rachel wants to get off the ship, she says she’ll get off the ship, but when she has a chance to get off the damn ship, she decides she might as well stay on after all. The script says she’s had a change of heart, but her face says there’s a movie to get through.

Released: 2018
Prod: Anders Bard, Amanda Bowers, Molly Conners, Lauren Miller Rogen
Dir: Lauren Miller Rogen
Writer: Lauren Miller Rogen
Cast: Kristen Bell, Kelsey Grammer, Seth Rogen, Paul W. Downs, Zach Appelman, Leonard Ouzts, Blaire Brooks, Anthony Laciura, Brett Gelman
Time: 98 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2018

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Life as We Know It (2010)

I’ll admit that I passed on Life as We Know It because it looked like another senseless romantic comedy starring Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel, who, let’s face it, don’t have the greatest track record when it comes to these things. But I’m glad to say that I was wrong, and also do not judge a movie by its Netflix thumbnail. The film isn’t without its flaws, but it’s a touching drama that manages generous amounts of romance and comedy if that’s what you’re looking for. At times, the movie plays more like a low-key independent than a studio film, and I’d love to see not only more movies like this one but also more quality parts for stars Heigl and Duhamel.

Both actors surprise with their portrayal of two bickering opposites who have to set their differences aside when their best friends (Christina Hendricks and Hayes MacArthur) die in a car accident, leaving them to raise the couple’s infant daughter. Heigl doesn’t depart from her previous roles, which is a damn shame because I’m sure she has more range than type A character who frustrates men with her overbearing personality. Holly is the latest iteration of this Heigl type; she owns her own bakery, drives a smart car, and loves to plan. Her first meeting with Messer, Duhamel’s character, is a blind date that ends in mutual disgust and a lot of screaming on her part. Duhamel also plays to a certain image. Eric, who goes by his last name, is the kind of guy who will definitely have sex with the babysitter whether or not he has a baby. He cares greatly for his motorcycle and his St. Louis Blues hat and little else in terms of home comforts and appearances.

The two have almost nothing in common, but what they do share is enough to bring them together not just as a couple but as a family. The film works because it isn’t hemmed in by genre conventions. It’s equally comfortable with its comedic, romantic, and dramatic elements. Some of its better moments are expected. There’s a band of kooky neighbors led by a scene stealing Melissa McCarthy. They try to comfort Holly and Messer after they move into their friends’ house to care for little Sophie, but they eventually become more invested in the simmering romance between the two, and then later the love triangle when pediatrician Dr. Sam (Josh Lucas) enters the picture. Holly and Messer also have a rough and amusing go as first time parents when they realize that caring for a baby 24/7 is far different from playing with one for a few minutes at a birthday party.

This film stands out though because of the way it treats the knottier parts of a relationship and of life. In between the chaos of parenthood is real grief. It informs Holly and Messer’s parenting decisions and their commitment to each other. This sudden and in many ways unwanted responsibility forces both to reevaluate their work and family priorities. Messer in particular has a stronger character arc than a similar film might allow. He proves to be more than an overgrown frat boy and struggles with his love for Holly and Sophie and his love for his job as a television sports director. Duhamel brings a lot of maturity to his part, and I found myself sympathizing with a character I detested at first.

Because the relationship between this makeshift family develops so naturally, the inevitable fallout rings less true. The emotional beats of the third act are hollow by comparison, and Holly and Messer’s troubles come too fast and furious, put on just to tick off narrative boxes. It’s believable that the couple would experience growing pains, but their loud, brassy arguments and the poor decisions that inspired them are out of line with the relative sensitivity with which they’ve handled a tough situation. It detracts from an otherwise enjoyable movie and a great vehicle for the stars’ talents.

Released: 2010
Prod: Barry Josephson, Paul Brooks
Dir: Greg Berlanti
Writer: Ian Deitchman, Kristin Rusk Robinson
Cast: Katherine Heigl, Josh Duhamel, Josh Lucas, Alexis Clagett, Brynn Clagett, Brooke Clagett, Christina Hendricks, Hayes MacArthur, Jessica St. Clair, Melissa McCarthy, Sarah Burns, DeRay Davis, Kumail Nanjiani, Reggie Lee
Time: 115 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2018

When in Rome (2010)

When in Rome tries really hard to make its audience fall in love with the film. It not only gives us two likeable leads in Kristen Bell and Josh Duhamel but also a strong supporting cast that includes Anjelica Huston, Dax Shepard, and Danny DeVito. It takes place partly in Rome too, which means pretty scenery and cute cars. There’s even some magic because why the hell not? Despite this effort, however, I’m not at all convinced that this romantic comedy is worth watching, especially when there are far better movies about Americans falling in love in Italy.

This one relies on a master book of clichés, which is not a criticism since all films do to a degree, but very little about this movie feels fresh. It’s like watching a hamster spinning around in its wheel – repetitive, dull, and exhausting. Bell plays Beth, a curator at the Guggenheim who flies off to Rome for her sister’s wedding. Things aren’t going great for her in the romance department, and when she sees the best man whom she kind of fancies making out with a hot girl, she takes a drunken dip in the Fontana d’Amore. Since the coins in the fountain symbolize people’s wish for love, she decides to save them the trouble and retrieves a few, bringing them back with her to New York.

That’s when Beth’s problems start. In quick succession, a line of guys begin accosting her on the street and at work, proclaiming their undying love for her. It’s an eclectic group; there’s a model (Shepard), an artist (Will Arnett), a street magician (Jon Heder), and a sausage vendor (DeVito). None compare to that dishy best man though, and it turns out this Nick (Duhamel) character is also in New York. Beth soon realizes the source of this adulation, and it’s not her great looks and killer personality. Tradition has it that if you fish someone’s coin out of the fountain, they will be under your spell until you return the coin. Tough break, Beth.

Or not because this movie is full of unacceptable stalker behavior, like it’s time to call the cops sort of behavior. I’m not above accepting a sausage basket or two (actually, can someone please send me one), but when nude murals of you start appearing all over the city or when a stranger and his photographer are waiting to surprise you at your home, it’s time to rethink ideas of romance. To be fair, Beth makes it clear that she does not appreciate these overtures and that they won’t win her over, but Nick, who may or may not be under the spell, also has no problem sending his photojournalist friend (Bobby Moynihan) to stalk her.

Since most of the humor is centered around stalking, When in Rome is just not that funny. Anjelica Huston is also wasted as Beth’s Miranda Priestly-like boss. With all the men acting wacko, there’s not much for her to do except cock an eyebrow and glance menacingly at her junior. I like Bell and Duhamel but the script doesn’t give them a chance to show off their comedic abilities. Rome also gets the short shrift, and it looks like most of “Rome” was filmed on a studio lot or some place approximating a sunny, cobblestoned town. After watching this movie, I was ready to kick back and spend the night with Only You, a truly funny and romantic film about love, magic, and Italy.

Released: 2010
Prod: Mark Steven Johnson, Gary Foster, Andrew Panay
Dir: Mark Steven Johnson
Writer: Mark Steven Johnson, David Diamond, David Weissman
Cast: Kristen Bell, Josh Duhamel, Will Arnett, Jon Heder, Dax Shepard, Danny DeVito, Anjelica Huston, Kate Micucci, Bobby Moynihan, Alexis Dziena, Luca Calvani, Kristen Schaal, Peggy Lipton, Don Johnson, Lee Pace
Time: 91 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2018

The Proposal (2009)

The Proposal will be celebrating its tenth birthday next year, and as I rewatch it in 2018, I see that it doesn’t so much shine a light on naked Ryan Reynolds as it does on the conversation around American immigration. The premise rests on formidable editor’s imminent deportation to Canada, which she fights by arranging a quickie wedding with her assistant. Despite violating previous immigration orders and engaging in a sham relationship, INS actually goes along with the charade, grants the woman an interview, and proceeds as if everything was aboveboard – even after she admits to the fraud!

Are You Serious? [insert massive side eye] ICE is rounding up people left and right, and this is the immigration story we get? I know it’s Hollywood, I know it’s fake, and I know it was made in 2009, but it’s also incredibly sobering to watch in these times. The Proposal can only exist with a white Canadian protagonist. If you were to cast an actress any shade darker, this movie would be neither a romance nor a comedy. We’d have a straight up tragedy on our hands.

This is where reality leaves us, even if you can salvage parts. You can still appreciate the charisma and chemistry of lead actors, Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds. Bullock is an ice queen as Margaret Tate, but her character melts damn quick when she starts opening up to her assistant cum fiancé during a weekend trip to Sitka, Alaska. Likewise, Reynolds is at his romcom peak. He plays, Andrew, the long-suffering writer and editor who endures his boss’s abuse in the hopes of securing a plum publishing job. The two eviscerate each other with withering sarcasm and wit, that is until they start to bond over Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock. Their weekend with his parents (Mary Steenburgen and Craig T. Nelson) and grandmother (Betty White) helps both to reevaluate their priorities. For Margaret, it’s being more emotionally vulnerable and available while Andrew has to reconcile with his demanding father.

Besides the two leads, White gets the most attention as the gabby grandmother. She has her moments, like when she’s poking around Bullock’s chest like it’s an egg hunt. But there’s also a questionable scene in which she’s chanting and hopping about in what we’re led to believe is a Native American ritual. Props for bringing the Tlingit, an indigenous people, to my attention, but when your name is Betty White, spinning around a bonfire while wearing a headdress is not a good look.

Some supporting characters get lost, and the movie never balances the immigration fraud with Andrew’s story in particular. We meet his ex, Gertrude (Malin Åkerman), who normally would work her way into becoming the third wheel, but there is nothing bad to say about her. Worse yet, there’s really nothing to say about her at all. Andrew’s split with Gertrude and rift with his dad all have to do with his reluctance to stay in Alaska. Unfortunately, we never get a satisfying conclusion to this either, even if they do find peace.

Released: 2009
Prod: Todd Lieberman, David Hoberman, Kristin Burr
Dir: Anne Fletcher
Writer: Peter Chiarelli
Cast: Sandra Bullock, Ryan Reynolds, Betty White, Mary Steenburgen, Craig T. Nelson, Denis O’Hare, Oscar Nuñez, Malin Åkerman, Aasif Mandvi
Time: 108 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2018

Maid in Manhattan (2002)

Sometimes you come across a bad movie at the right time and, despite knowing better, still find it enjoyable. It’s happened to all of us, and Maid in Manhattan is one that caught me unawares on a lazy Saturday afternoon. A lifeless, predictable romance, if we’re being honest, this movie nevertheless wormed its way into the edges of my heart. It’s not exactly a romantic comedy, though it does have its stock of absurd characters and situations, but I liked Wayne Wang’s quiet direction, which was content to let the story hum steadily along.

The movie still depends on wacky, blown-up moments that pivot the action from one point to the next. Marisa Ventura (Jennifer Lopez), a maid in the rich people’s floor in a fancy Manhattan hotel, is a devoted single mother with aspirations of joining management. When her friend convinces her to try on a guest’s discarded Dolce and Gabbana, she catches the eye of Chris Marshall (Ralph Fiennes), a state assemblyman with aspirations of joining the U.S. Senate. He mistakes Marisa for Caroline Lane (Natasha Richardson), whose room she is cleaning, and they go out for a walk. Unable to stop this train, she continues the deception, much to Chris’s confusion when the real Caroline shows up at a private lunch.

Anyone who’s seen a romance knows where this is heading and how it will work itself out. The movie doesn’t get its fuel from its original storytelling but in part from the charisma of its supporting characters. The actors ham it up, exaggerating the drama just so. Richardson has the most fun with her role and teases the clueless, British Caroline. Stanley Tucci also makes an impression as Chris’s dry chief of staff, ever on guard for media stories that may threaten the Senate campaign. Others have roles that aren’t as juicy, a young Tyler Posey as Marisa’s politically obsessed son and Bob Hoskins as the avuncular head butler, for example, but they stand out for their sincerity.

The real weak link is the lead characters. It isn’t so much that Lopez and Fiennes are bad but that they have no chemistry. In fact, I easily fell for Marisa’s flinty personality and Chris’s wayward Republican attempt to see past himself. But the two act at each other, both characters earnestly in love with someone, just not the someone in front of them. Marisa makes a dynamic first impression on Chris because of the way she looks, but his continued devotion to her is puzzling, predicated on the fact that she will tell it like it is while his staff are all too eager to shield him from any hint of controversy. Likewise, she’s smitten, but since she always ends up lecturing him about the working class, what’s the attraction?

Besides making for a frustrating romance, this lack of clarity also raises questions of how race, class, and gender are portrayed. That the Latino girl moves up thanks to the generosity of the dashing white guy is just one of the concerns. Marisa is never really more than the maid who makes good, something that is emphasized most clearly in the closing scene when her name and photo are splashed across magazines and newspapers. Even after she strikes out on her own, she is always presented in relation to her former job or her partner. Once a maid in Manhattan, always a maid in Manhattan.

Released: 2002
Prod: Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas, Paul Schiff, Deborah Schindler
Dir: Wayne Wang
Writer: Kevin Wade
Cast: Jennifer Lopez, Ralph Fiennes, Natasha Richardson, Stanley Tucci, Tyler Posey, Marissa Matrone, Amy Sedaris, Bob Hoskins
Time: 105 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2017