It’s Thanksgiving week and Hugely Uncontrolled Pandemic Season here in the United States, which means there really is no better time to plonk yourself on the couch and watch a whole bunch of romantic movies that don’t require too much of your body or brain. This is a time when you can honestly say that staying home and sitting around watching pretty people argue and fall in love is part of your civic duty. Seriously, though, if you’re currently in the United States or anywhere else where COVID cases are rising: Stay the fuck home.
Everybody Loves Somebody
Honestly, I felt myself forgetting this movie as I watched it, but you shouldn’t take that as a criticism at all because I really enjoyed watching it. You can’t possibly carry everything you watch in your heart for the rest of your life; sometimes, you just need things to wash pleasantly over you. This was gentle and engaging and bilingual (like really bilingual, not stilted bilingual). Plus, the scenery was not at all ugly.
Clara Barron (Karla Souza) is a successful OB/GYN living in Los Angeles who believes true love is only for a select few. She likes to drink and have one night stands and doesn’t want to get attached. She’s also smart, funny, and likeable. (Karla Souza is very appealing and so can pull this off without seeming like a total asshole or a total mess.) When she needs a date for her parents’ wedding in Mexico (they’ve been together for 40 years and have decided to change things up by tying the knot) she enlists a sweet, round-faced, nerdish, Australian medical resident (who is also smart, and funny, and likeable). On the drive from LA, they invent a Mexican grandmother for him named Jacinta. At the wedding, her tall, angular, bearded, nomadic ex-boyfriend shows up unexpectedly and things get complicated. I mean, not really, because you know more or less how they’ll eventually untangle. The movie sort of gets philosophical about how love looks for different people at different times in their lives, but not in a way that’s too trite or treacly. And the Australian doctor kind of helps Clara find herself, but not in a way that feels mansplainy, just in a way that feels like he sees through her posturing and accepts her for who she is. The moments of familial love and camaraderie feel tender and real, and I would like to score a weekend invite to her parents’ house in Ensanada. (On Amazon Prime)
I’d almost say you’re better off just watching the trailer a few times instead of watching the entire movie, but it did have its moments. Susan (Rachael Leigh Cook) is a dedicated small-time attorney who represents the underdog who almost never gets paid, but still who manages to have two employees, and who definitely doesn’t have time for dating. (I know very little about lawyerly things but, even so, I would guess this movie errs very much on the not at all realistic side of depicting the judicial system.) She drives a beater car that only plays “I Think We’re Alone Now” by Tiffany. (You should be forewarned that after watching the movie that song will be lodged so deeply in your brain that you will hear it in your dreams. Is that a bad thing? The 1987 version of me would give you an emphatic NO, but I’ll let the current version of you decide for yourself.) The driver’s side door handle keeps falling off her car, and the greatest mystery of the movie for me is how she is able to just stick it back on to open the door. That’s not at all how door handles work. But friends, it’s probably good advice to not get too attached to how anything actually works if you’re going to commit to watching all 90 minutes of this movie.
Anyway, one day Nick Evans (Damon Wayans, Jr.) shows up at her office wanting to sue the dating app Love, Guaranteed for failing to find him love on any of the nearly 1,000 dates he’s been on. She wants to say no because she only takes on real cases, but he offers a large check and she relents. You can basically guess how it goes from there.
Susan’s employees (Sean Amsing and Lisa Durupt) are like caricatures of stereotypes. Is that a thing? It is now, and it’s not particularly good. A couple of the set-ups for the dates gone wrong are mildly amusing, but then they drag out too long. Heather Graham is almost funny as the new-agey, Gwenyth Paltrow-esque head of the dating app Love, Guaranteed, but none of the jokes land quite right for me.
The scenes with Susan and Nick are, if not endearing, in the same neighborhood as endearing. I mean, it’s all a little too treacly, not quite funny enough, and there is like zero tension, but they both manage to make their characters very likeable and sympathetic. Plus, they wear some really great coats while they are exchanging not-so-great dialogue.
I’d almost say you should watch it for the one scene where Damon Wayans, Jr. does the most epic eye roll in the history of eye rolls, but then you’re also locked into watching some drawn-out and unnecessary courtroom scenes. There are certainly worse ways to spend an hour and half of your life, but I also guarantee you can find something you’ll love more. (Sorry, not sorry for that last line.) (On Netflix)
The Lost Husband
Oops. This is not actually a Rom-Com, but I’m including it because the trailer led me to believe it would be. In reality, it’s more a light drama where the romantical parts feel kind of crammed in around the edges. That said, while it dragged in some parts and the twangy background music nearly drove me to the edge, it wasn’t a bad movie if you’re looking for something that’s easy watching. Libby Moran (Leslie Bibb) who, since losing her husband and their house, has been living with her difficult mother, takes her two children to live with her estranged Aunt Jean (Nora Dunn) on her goat farm in rural Texas. I’m sorry, should I have led with the bit about there being goats in this movie? I probably should have!
Jean is a no-nonsense-but-kind woman who has been living on her own since her husband died ten years ago. (Her current boyfriend is played by Isaiah Witlock, Jr., who is delightful here even though he never once has the opportunity to turn the word shit into an oratory kind of artform.) Jean takes the kids under her wing and throws Libby straight to work learning how to run the farm. Obviously, Libby’s guide in goat husbandry is the Emotionally Unavailable, brooding, and taciturn farm manager, James O’Connor (Josh Duhamel). There are a lot of the usual tropes here: Libby and James don’t like each other at first, they’re forced to work together, he has a past he doesn’t want to discuss, they get stuck somewhere together and that helps them both see the other’s humanity and abilities. But still, the romance that is bound to blossom between them feels secondary to the story of Libby finding her place in the world and unwinding the complicated relationships between herself, her mother, and her Aunt Jean. I imagine some executive insisting that no one would want to watch a movie that was just about three middle-aged women and insisting they get some heterosexual romantic tension in there. I’m annoyed by that, but it’s also not exactly a hardship to watch Josh Duhamel’s Genetically Blessed Face™ explain how you have to sing to the goats before milking them. (On Netflix)
CW: Suicide (the movie, not this review)
People tend to get super duper excited about higher concept Rom-Coms. As if the whole genre needs to be elevated or something. It really doesn’t, in my opinion, and most of the time elevated Rom-Coms just feel like the rambling theories of that guy in your class who never did any of the reading but still insisted on using up all the oxygen in the room with his bloviating theories. Long story short, I didn’t have high expectations for Palm Springs, especially when I saw it has a rating over 7 on IMDB and an over 80 score on Metacritic. That combination usually means that someone has worked hard to suck the life out of a Rom-Com. But I like Andy Samberg and I love J.K. Simmons, and I’ve come around on time-loop things, thanks in large part to Groundhog Day and Russian Doll (wherefore art thou season 2?), and this ended up being sweet, dark, and amusing.
The whole thing is, by its own explicit admission, a kind of shaggy dog love story. Nyles (Andy Samberg) has been stuck at the wedding of his girlfriend’s friend for a really long time. No matter what he does, including dying, he wakes up on the morning of the wedding. He’s come to accept his limited existence with a kind of slacker’s grace. Every morning he floats in the pool and has the same conversation with the same guy. He attempts lackluster sex with his distracted girlfriend. He swigs beer from the can and mouths along with the cowboy officiant during the ceremony. He glides easily through the packed dance floor, anticipating everyone’s next move. Then, during a hook-up gone horribly, horribly wrong, Sarah (Cristin Milioti whose facial expressions and deadpan delivery are delightful), the reluctant maid of honor who is a bit of a fuck up who drinks too much, gets sucked into the same time loop.
She is, to put it mildly, displeased. Nyles, on the other hand, is kind of excited to have a pal along for the endless journey through the same day. After Sarah runs through all the ways she thinks she can escape the time-loop, while Nyles already knows she can’t, she joins him in wasting time. They visit a shooting range, choreograph a dance number, nearly start bar fights, pull wedding-related shenanigans, drink gallons of beer, do some drugs, and finally settle into a routine of sorts that finds joy in the tedium. Not unlike a relationship that plays out in standard time, actually. And really, the movie can be all philosophical and shit, but we can also all relate to the feelings of being stuck and of life feeling meaningless. (Especially in the current times of COVID.) And then there’s the question that it ultimately grapples with: Is it better to just let life come at you or to try to have some agency over the whole mess? I know, I know, it sounds like a lot, but the movie works because it has all these elements and still manages to be goofy, fun, a little raunchy, and sparkly, with an extremely anti-climatic ending. It’s kind of the perfect bright spot for an afternoon that, whether because of endless quarantine or endless chronic illness or just the endless cycle of life, feels like a tedious recreation of so many other afternoons. And look, I’m not going to lose my mind over how amazingly high-concept it is, but I do like that it’s thoughtful and fun without being fraught. (On Hulu)