Cookie cutter romantic comedyÂ satisfies a too-easily edified audience. No matter how formulaic and tepid theÂ sausage, the factories grind out more product to feed the gaping maw; indieÂ films usually attract a more marginal fringe-ier crew, on the hunt for theÂ original, the untold (or even oft-told) story told in fresh new ways. Pitting aÂ humble little indie versus a major studio wide release makes for an inherentlyÂ unfair fight and one with a foregone conclusion at the box office, but ticketÂ sales wonâ€™t sway this Smackdown. As â€œLeap Yearâ€ bounds onto virtually everyÂ available screen and Quirky Indie-That-Could â€œYouth In Revoltâ€ limps onto aÂ fraction of that number, ask yourself: Is bigger necessarily better? DoesÂ conventional beat quirky? And why am I suddenly possessed with Carrie BradshawÂ syndrome?
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In This Corner
â€œLeap Yearâ€ (2009) succeeds beyond myÂ wildest expectations; while perhaps falling short as classic romantic comedy,Â it ranks right up there among the most beautiful and enticing travelogues everÂ filmed. Ireland has never looked lovelier, and the two attractive leads doÂ nothing untoward to spoil the view. Matthew Goode makes a scruffy object ofÂ conflicted desire, and Amy Adamsâ€™ luminous baby blues light up the screen. TheÂ script offers some surprises in store for those whoâ€™ve never seen a movieÂ before. (The execrable and ubiquitous trailer omitted no plot turn or visualÂ gag and succeeded in thoroughly ruining the moviegoing experience for audiencesÂ that frequent theaters.)
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In That Corner. Indie darling Michael Cera heads aÂ cast of other low-key funny folks in this creatively told, utterlyÂ unpredictable coming of age story. Such dependable stalwarts as Fred Willard,Â Steve Buscemi, Zach Galifianakis, M. Emmet Walsh, Jean Smart, Ray Liotta, MaryÂ Kay Place (so grievously under-utilized in the recent â€œItâ€™s Complicatedâ€) andÂ Justin Long populate the very deep bench and make the utmost of remarkablyÂ offbeat material. The terrific and pitch perfect Adhir Kalyan does everythingÂ but steal the film from right under their veteran noses. Relative newcomerÂ Portia Doubleday makes a worthy love object, smart and complex, well-writtenÂ and underplayed.
â€œYouth In Revoltâ€ screenwriter GustinÂ Nash delivers a deft adaptation of C. D. Payneâ€™s novel, featuring richlyÂ diverse characters and a plot that ambles and veers in surprising twists andÂ turns. Itâ€™s gratifying to see movie high schoolers not dumbed down or tartedÂ up; bookish and writerly and possessed of raging libidos nonetheless, theseÂ idiosyncratic teens are rare as henâ€™s teeth.Â I remember a conversation I had a long time ago with someoneÂ older than I was then (younger than I am now) who referred to my romanticÂ circumstance at the time as â€œpuppy love.â€ No, I argued passionately. This wasÂ â€œdog love.â€ â€œYouth In Revoltâ€ carried me back and reminded me how that firstÂ love feels — how real, how important, how central, how life-altering. ThatÂ gravity is no joke, and this comedy never slights that reality. â€œYouth InÂ Revoltâ€ is a serious youth comedy.
Director Miguel Arteta serves the material with a sure hand,Â peppering his dry confection with unexpected snippets of animation sprinkledÂ throughout where bigger budgets and smaller imaginations might feature staleÂ montages. One wishes Arteta had spurred Michael Cera to stretch his chops a bitÂ further in playing dangerous alter ego Francois Dillinger; for me, a little ofÂ Ceraâ€™s perpetually light-voiced, stalled adolescent act goes a very long way,Â and a huge opportunity was missed.
Big, shiny movie stars canâ€™t disguise a hash of warmed-overÂ ideas, and all the performing energy and charisma in the world canâ€™t stifle theÂ creakiness of recycled conventions. Predictable stale, by-the- umbers rom-comÂ road tripping rituals addle â€œLeap Year.â€ Amy Adams commits throroughly to herÂ character; her considerable charms abound, and her subtle talent fifts theÂ hackneyed material; we believe everything but her romantic confusion. MatthewÂ Goode hovers a bit above the rom-com fray somehow, a wary visitor, an awkwardÂ guest at the party, and earns our affection for that very reticence. Adam ScottÂ plays his usual role — heâ€™s the guy who will NEVER EVER get the girl, this oneÂ a cardiologist. Get it? Heâ€™s a heart doctor! With no heart!
Every American romantic comedy leading lady gets herÂ comeuppance along with her ring. The goal is almost always marriage for theseÂ otherwise perfectly functioning and intelligent women, and to earn the prize ofÂ her belovedâ€™s affection and troth, she must be reduced to a falling-downÂ imbecile. I struggled mightily to think of a female love object in AmericanÂ movie history who avoided this weird rite of romantic passage. Since KatharineÂ Hepburn and Rosalind Russell first hid their considerably bright lights theÂ better to woo their beaus, the die has been cast. Amy Adams plays Anna fromÂ Boston, a successful career woman, a controlling and controlled adult. Sheâ€™sÂ going to be face down in a pile of mud in a matter of minutes. Itâ€™s fate. AsÂ soon as she boards an airplane for Ireland, with a daffy plan to propose to herÂ completely undeserving, unworthy, Creepy Cardiologist boyfriend; the movie mathÂ is more than clear. Heâ€™s a five, and sheâ€™s an easy eight even soaked with rainÂ and caked with mud. We never want to see them together, not even for a movieÂ moment. Theyâ€™ve got no chemistry. We know that the person she initiallyÂ dislikes, the only young manÂ Â (attractive or otherwise) in Ireland as it happens, will be The One.Â Sheâ€™s never been to the movies, or sheâ€™d know too. The more of a mess sheÂ makes, the more he adores her. The more vulnerability and mocking disinterestÂ and machismo he shows, the more she adores him. Sigh. Been there. Plenty. ButÂ only at the movies. Every movie.
Rom-Com Conventions: A Partial List/Field Guide For The Connoisseur
Here follows a partial list of those very conventions soÂ familiar as to seem moot. (When an audience member laughs at any of theseÂ rom-com moments, I am stunned and amazed. Iâ€™m jealous that they have suchÂ unspoiled palates, such capacity for pure enjoyment. Then I wonder how suchÂ innocents managed to make it to the theater unscathed and how theyâ€™ll ever findÂ their way home.)
Expensively dressed women in ridiculously high heeled shoesÂ fall endlessly (and joylessly) into mud resulting in an ever-decreasing comedyÂ spiral.
Does every movie working woman have to wear six hundredÂ dollar shoes to walk in the wilderness? Amy Adams tromps through rain, mud, hail,Â and poop in towering heels, following in the footsteps of Sandra Bullock (â€œTheÂ Propositionâ€)Â and Renee ZelweggerÂ (â€œNew In Townâ€) and myriads of other footwear challenged movie stars. TheirÂ legs do look greatâ€¦
Countless perfect coifs drown in ubiquitous suddenÂ downpours. Thank God there are crackerjack hairdressers around to fix thingsÂ for the next scenes.
Adversaries share an awkward kiss and/or bed for reasonsÂ that strain credulity only to discover that they are attracted mightily to theÂ (yawn) prickly difficult person they initially disliked.
Frustratingly glacial discoveries dawn as plethoras ofÂ protagonists discover that their unsuitable mates have hearts of stone.
Locals are possessed of innate and infallible wisdom â€“ allÂ strangers see through the quibbling to the love thatâ€™s already there waitingÂ for the lovers to discover — their extraordinary wisdom topped only by theÂ ludicrously offensive and extreme stereotypes they are forced to play. (PagingÂ Irish Anti- efamation League. For otherÂ recent and flagrant stereotypes: â€œMamma Mia!â€ and â€œMy Life In Ruins.â€Â Personal revelations clutter the rom-com landscape –Â over-simplified explanations excuse every personality flaw or tic and all isÂ forgiven/forgotten. Why, itâ€™s just like real life.
The interchangeably generic best friend at home (either gayÂ male or less attractive female) whose sole raison d’Ãªtre is the romantic lifeÂ of the protagonist lives only to deliver exposition and support. These friendsÂ routinely disappear for huge chunks of time as friendship is unnecessary andÂ secondary to romance. For sole exception to rule, see: â€œSex And The Cityâ€ whereÂ romance provides mere conversational fodder for primary goal, friendship. Note:Â All male-driven rom-com works that way. See: Judd Apatow.
Oh, and lest we forget: the utterly unconvincingÂ back-and-forth false beat of an unhappy ending. Gee. What a surprise. We neverÂ guessed. Exception: â€œPretty in Pink.â€ Everyone agrees Ducky shouldâ€™ve gottenÂ the girl.
I love romantic comedy. Itâ€™s the genreÂ that most frequently disappoints, but I keep heading back to the multiplex forÂ more, expecting movie magic and usually getting served reheated leftovers. OhÂ sure, he hits me when he drinks, but he can change. While â€œLeap Yearâ€ isnâ€™t a total disaster, I am just so plain gratefulÂ to go to the movies and not get out ahead of things that Iâ€™m going with â€œYouthÂ In Revolt.â€ Chalk it up to middle age in revolt.
Amazing review. I agree with everything you’ve said here. I have to say my favorite “frustratingly glacial discovery” of the unsuitability of the heroine’s fiance is in “Made of Honor.” The script offers some surprises in store for those whoâ€™ve never seen a movie before.
We were all in a Lake Tahoe rental home last night and it was the one DVD nobody had seen (Youth in Revolt). Every one of us was surprised and delighted. We howled at the cut from “Solidarity” to Fred Willard driving half-naked. Good decision.
Loved the abusive relationship romcom metaphor in the final paragraph. Another hilarious review. Can’t wait to see Youth and Revolt!
Insightful, and clever, as usual.
This was my favorite quote:
“Every American romantic comedy leading lady gets her comeuppance along with her ring. The goal is almost always marriage for these otherwise perfectly functioning and intelligent women, and to earn the prize of her belovedâ€™s affection and troth, she must be reduced to a falling-down imbecile. ”
“The script offers some surprises in store for those whoâ€™ve never seen a movie before.”
Classic! So true! I agree with everything you’ve said here. And the list of romcom conventions is very insightful, too. Though I have to say my favorite “[f]rustratingly glacial discovery” of the unsuitability of the heroine’s fiance is in “Made of Honor.” Her realization comes after her fiance won’t let her have a bite of his cake. And of course, whenever anyone asks, “So, what is it that you love about [name]?”, their answer is always, “Umm…” or “He’s… dependable… and… makes a steady income” or just a close-up of an obviously conflicted face and then a cut. Is it really that hard to write convincing romance, even convincing *bad* romance? I know plenty of people who’ve been in relationships with partners who, if life were a movie, would fall into the Adam Scott category, but I at least understand why they’re together. And more importantly, they do.