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When the central relationship of your movie – particularly if it’s a rom-com – really pops, it can make up for considerable shortcomings in other respects. If there’s genuine chemistry in that dynamic, then viewers will forgive a lot.

There’s no denying that Kumail Najiani and Issa Rae have that easy chemistry in “The Lovebirds.” Directed by Michael Showalter (who also directed Nanjiani in the excellent “The Big Sick”) from a script written by Aaron Abrams and Brendon Gall, it’s the story of a couple who, in the midst of what may be the end of their relationship, wind up entangled in a complex and weird mystery.

As far as this sort of action-adjacent rom-com goes, “The Lovebirds” is pretty familiar stuff. We’ve more or less seen this structure with these beats before – there’s nothing new here. But it still works, thanks to what Nanjiani and Rae bring to the table. Their energy elevates the movie to a significant degree, turning something that could have been generically forgettable into a worthwhile watch.

Published in Movies

One of my favorite romantic comedy techniques is the adaptation of and/or inspiration by a classic work. This is particularly prolific in the teen-targeted sector, because let’s be honest, love stories tend to be a young person’s game. Granted, quality source material is hardly a guarantee of a quality film, but it’s certainly a good place to start.

The latest example of the literary classic-turned-YA rom-com “The Half of It,” written and directed by Alice Wu and newly streaming on Netflix. It definitely lands on the inspired by side of things, but it wears that particular influence – namely, Edmund Rostand’s “Cyrano de Bergerac” – loudly and proudly.

Granted, it takes the classic secret correspondence-driven love triangle and gives it a decidedly original flair, gender-flipping our erstwhile epistle-writer and lending the entire proceedings a cloak of LGBTQ+ friendliness that serves to make the story feel both of the moment and widely accessible.

It doesn’t hurt that Wu is a gifted filmmaker with a particular talent for language; she’s got a real ear for witty and romantic dialogue. And she has an outstanding trio of young actors at the film’s center. All the pieces are there for a lovely little movie – and “The Half of It” delivers.

Published in Movies

It wasn’t that long ago that romantic comedies ruled the cinematic realm. They were the films that filled out the robust middle tier of film offerings, turning fresh faces into stars and stars into icons. Alas, the 21st century hasn’t been as kind to the rom-com; studios have leaned heavily into macro- and microbudgeted fare, with little breathing room left over for that once-jammed middle level.

Here’s the thing, though – people still like those sorts of movies. And so Netflix, kings of exploiting market inefficiencies that they are, have invested mightily in the rom-com. The service is rife with original rom-com content, filling the niche that has been largely empty for nearly two decades.

The latest in line is “Love. Wedding. Repeat.” It’s an English language remake of a 2012 French comedy titled “Plan de table,” one both adapted and directed by Dean Craig. It’s a frothy delight, featuring attractive people in a beautiful setting dealing with a bunch of nonsense. You know – your basic romantic comedy.

It’s not the most sophisticated movie you’re likely to see – it’s situationally contrived in the usual ways and largely content to settle for easy laughs and easier sentimentality. However, the cast is undeniably charming and there’s enough of an interesting spin on the standard formula to make this particular wedding one that you’ll be glad to have attended.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 04 June 2019 16:09

Say yes to ‘Always Be My Maybe’

While I would argue that reports of the demise of the romantic comedy have been greatly exaggerated, it’s tough to deny that things have changed with regards to that particular genre.

Movie studios aren’t as interested in investing in mid-budget standalone films anymore. It’s all about massive tentpole franchises with a smattering of awards bait and a handful of mini- and microbudget niche offerings. Rom-coms aren’t really big box office anymore.

But Netflix doesn’t need you to make your way to the movie theater. They just need you to click a couple of buttons on your remote. They need your eyeballs. And they have discovered that an effective avenue to procure those eyeballs is the romantic comedy.

The streaming service’s latest – and arguably best – entry into that arena is “Always Be My Maybe,” starring Ali Wong and Randall Park. It’s from a script co-written by Wong and Park, along with Michael Golamko; the film is directed by Nahnatchka Khan, best known for her work on TV’s “Fresh Off the Boat.”

“Always Be My Maybe” is not a wheel reinvention; all of the people involved clearly have a sense for how rom-coms work and are unconcerned with change for the sake of change. Instead, the film revolves around subverting tropes – sometimes subtly, other times not so much – while still existing within the standard stylistic framework of the genre.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 20 February 2019 13:50

Love actually – ‘Isn’t It Romantic’

While the heyday of the romantic comedy has passed, there’s no disputing that the genre is still a significant part of the cinematic whole. Sure, there aren’t as many big-screen rom-coms as there once were, but the folks at Netflix have embraced them in a big way.

Suffice it to say, rom-coms aren’t going anywhere.

That’s why even though it might feel like a bit of a late arrival, “Isn’t It Romantic” still works. Yes, the sorts of films being targeted aren’t necessarily at the forefront of the cultural consciousness like they once were, but there’s no doubt that the tropes of the form still serve as prominent pop shorthand.

It doesn’t quite have the satiric bite that you might expect – largely because of a readily apparent affection for the source material. Basically, this movie tries to have it both ways, attempting to subvert conventions while at the same time embracing them. And while it isn’t wholly successful in that effort, the end result is still a solidly entertaining movie.

Published in Movies

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a sucker for a coming-of-age story. I love narratives that allow me to follow young people as they stumble through the assorted obstacles that growing up can scatter in our paths. And when you add in a little first love action, well … I’m all in.

But there’s a certain kind of coming-of-age story – and a certain kind of first love – that’s never really been explored in a mainstream studio film.

“Love, Simon” – based on the novel “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda” by Becky Albertalli and directed by Greg Berlanti - is the story of a high school student who is navigating the waters of adolescence and trying to become the person he wants to be – all while hiding his true self. See, Simon is gay and in the closet. He’s struggling to find the courage to follow his heart, but despite having seemingly every advantage – a loving family, close friends, a relatively progressive school – it’s still not easy.

Published in Movies

It’s a love story as old as time itself: A Pakistani-born comedian’s set is interrupted by a beautiful American girl. They begin dating. He is scared to tell his parents of the relationship because they intend for him to marry a Muslim girl.  

Published in Movies

For the past few years, we’ve been hearing about the demise of the romantic comedy. “The Death of the Rom-Com” has been the central thesis of loads of lengthy thinkpieces – some more navel-gaze-y than others, but all devoted to explaining the reasons behind the genre’s impending extinction.

And then a movie comes along to remind us all that there’s plenty of gas left in the romantic tank. All it takes is someone with a compelling (and funny) story to tell or a compelling (and funny) way to tell it or – ideally – both.

A movie like “The Big Sick.”

 

Published in Movies
Sunday, 27 November 2016 15:48

'Rules Don't Apply' a bland bore from Beatty

Hollywood legend's passion project surprisingly forgettable

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 17 February 2016 09:13

How to Be Single' deserves to be alone

Rom-com attempts edginess, fails to resonate

Plenty of people critics and consumers alike are happily dismissive of romantic comedies out of hand. I, however, am not one of them. There's something inherently romantic about the medium; movies are great vehicles for the telling of love stories. Call them cheesy, call them trite, call them whatever you like they can absolutely have value. They don't always, mind you, but they can.

This is where a distinction needs to be made; I'm talking about WELL-MADE romantic comedies here. There are certainly plenty of terrible rom-coms out there, just like there are terrible examples of every genre of film. Granted, romantic comedy tends to lean into formula and hackneyed tropes more than most, so it's always a delight when a solid one pops up.

Published in Movies
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