I like movies. And unless you have some weird fetish involving reading reviews of things you don’t like, I’m assuming you do too.
And when I say I like movies, I mean a broad spectrum, something you wouldn’t have picked up on judging by the reviews I have posted…
After watching Star Wars IV and V this weekend, I felt the need to watch something less geeky which brings me to why I am reviewing a random rom-com starring Justin Long.
I doubt very much you have seen this film: it is a relatively low-key, low budget affair which you’ve probably never heard of, given the distinct lack of advertising. Which is weird since it features cameos from Sienna Miller (American Sniper), Vince Vaugh (Dodgeball), Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones), Sam Rockwell (Iron Man 2), Busy Phillips (Cougar Town) and a barely recognisable Brendan Fraser (The Mummy). I guess it must be fashionable for well-known actors to have bit-parts in off-beat indie movies or something.
Anyway, the basic plot is Sam (Justin Long) is a writer of movie tie-in novels (don’t knock regular paid work in a field you enjoy, dude). While attending a signing, an old girlfriend drops by and he learns that she is not only married but pregnant. With a lacklustre job and similarly lacklustre life, he feels shamed into wanting to get that mythical creature called a ‘girlfriend’ (as that’s how you measure success in life in these kind of movies). Enter Birdie.
She’s a barista at the local independent coffee shop he frequents. She’s always late, unconventional (her parents are hippies who named her ‘Birdie’ so “she would always fly free”, for example)… you can see where this is going.
Now this film could quite easily fall into Manic Pixie Dream Girl territory (those unfamiliar with the term, go here: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ManicPixieDreamGirl) but it doesn’t. This is not about a girl saving a dreary or brooding guy but it is about him becoming something he isn’t to ‘win’ her.
Our protagonist meets Birdie, they have a brief flirt after which he then spends time getting to know her via her Facebook profile (as opposed to, say, going for a coffee or something). From Facebook, he learns all the things she likes and uses that to his advantage, e.g. she likes ballroom dancing, he learns to ballroom dance, she likes guitarists, so he learns to play guitar… effectively turning himself into her ideal partner.
Just an aside: we’ve had horror movies heavily featuring social, Unfriended and Sadako (the post-VHS, digital age reboot of The Ring), and now romantic shenganigans courtesy of social media, it is kind of sad to me that social media is creeping into literally every crevice of our lives.
Anyway, while Justin is learning how to be Birdie’s ideal guy, he is also writing a novel based on his experiences because he is a ‘real writer’.
He engineers a situation to meet her and asks her out. They date and, unsurprisingly, she grows to like this new guy she met who is a guitarist, who likes the same music and loves her favourite book. He goes ballroom dancing with her, goes rock climbing with her and all kinds of things to impress her. And inevitably, she falls for him.
Sam doesn’t quite feel the same way because, spoiler alert, he has been lying to her throughout their entire relationship. So when she tells him she loves him, he freaks out and realises that she doesn’t know the first thing about him.
In the meantime, he has finished his novel and has sent it to his publicist and the publisher. And they love it! They say the protagonist of the novel (which is a fictionalised version of Sam’s life) is a “real eunuch” and that it is “really interesting how the main character is the bad guy and you side with the girl.”
Of course, Sam can’t believe this: they clearly don’t understand that she only likes a fictional, idealised version of himself, not the real ‘book-Sam’. They of course, correctly opine, that any character who goes to such lengths to win her over, only to drop her when she finally falls for him, is destined to be alone forever.
Sam is confused but eventually realises that he does genuinely like Birdie and goes to win her back. He reveals that he did all those things because he read her Facebook profile and doesn’t actually like rock climbing and spiritual retreats and so on. The thing is, Birdie knew that all along as it was fairly obvious and started just posting random stuff to see if he would do it.
The moral of this story is that your interests and hobbies don’t matter anywhere near as much as whether someone likes you as a person or not. And guys and girls pretending to like stuff to impress a prospective partner has been happening since Ugh pretended to be a mammoth hunter to impress Ogh. So it’s all a bit lowstakes really.
I enjoyed this movie but aside from the lowstakes it was lacking something else. Co-written by Justin Long, his brother and his co-star, Keir O’Donnell, it is missing something. It doesn’t have the schmaltz or romanticism of your typical rom-com nor is it particularly funny (unless you think Peter Dinklage playing a camp barista sounds hilarious) but then it doesn’t have the edge you’d expect from an indie film.
So it just kind of meanders along, with two people dating, falling for one another and then having a lowstakes challenge right at the end leading to the not-very big reveal… And maybe that is really the point of this film: this could actually be about any of your friends or even yourself.
So what’s good about this film? Good question. Well, I guess it is never boring (and given some of the films I have seen recently, that’s actually notable) but it is lacking in so many areas that I’m not sure it really works as a ‘slice of life’ movie. While I think huge orchestral scores and your typical rom-com narrative structure probably wouldn’t work, it does need something to hook you in.
So while it has none of the artificial gravitas that Garden State (which was more enjoyable, if only for the performances of the players) neither does it have the sheer brilliance of 500 Days Of Summer or even the charm of Elizabethtown (which I would have loved but for Orlando Bloom and Kirsten Dunst, those being the principle players…).
For me, it falls into the same category as The Break-Up, a similar ‘slice of life’ rom-com (which also ended up being neither romantic nor funny). So if you liked that, you’ll probably like this. Otherwise watch any of the films in the previous paragraph.
TLDR; “Justin Long co-wrote, starred and produced a film which was exactly like watching one of your mates dating a girl. And exactly as entertaining.”