THE HATING GAME (2021)

Top half is Lucy Hale looking straight at camera with chin resting on hands. To left is her name. To right is Austin Stole. in the middle it says THE HATING GAME SHE'S THE ONE SHE LOVES TO HATE. Bottom half is a picture of Austin Stowell's face looking straight at camera.

Good chemistry between romantic leads can go a really long way in your run-of-the-mill rom-com. And it’s basically what carries The Hating Game through all one hour and forty-two minutes. (Please note, I have not read the book. This review is in no way a judgment of the book. I have no thoughts on the book.) The plot is threadbare in a lot of places, the character development is choppy, and it’s got some real questionable gestures couched as romance, but you get to watch two pretty people snark at each other and then have the hots for each other, so…even trade off? Kind of. 

Lucy Hutton (Lucy Hale) has a whole theory that hating someone “feels disturbingly like falling in love.” She says this because she’s been having a lot of rageful feelings toward her co-worker Joshua Templeman (Austin Stowell) since he, his handsome face, and his company, Bexley Books, merged with her company, Gamin Publishing. Where Gamin Publishing sees literature as art, Bexley Books has, in Lucy’s words, “ghost written autobiographies of brain damaged sports stars.” (Oh, hey, maybe let’s not make degrading jokes about traumatic brain injuries, but that is a rant for another time.) Of course, there is only literature published by people who love the written word and sportsball books published by people who just want to make money. Nuance does not exist. Other forms of writing do not exist. You can bet your sweet patootie that Jane Austen, William Shakespeare, and, for diversity, Gabriel García Márquez will all be name-checked. Lucy and Joshua work for the heads of Gamin and Bexley, respectively. Obviously, the head of Bexley Books is a sexist man-child who thinks books are trash and chooses book covers that will have the most sex appeal—even if they are completely unrelated to the topic.

 Josh and Lucy share a huge, well-lit room as an office where their desks face each other. This set up is mostly so they can spend all day trying to win a game of one-upmanship while staring at each other and saying quippy stuff. Lucy’s side of the room is a riot of color and chaos, because she’s cute and quirky and has an MFA in Victorian Literature. Josh’s side is hyper organized and all shades of gray, because he’s uptight and serious and has an MBA, even though his parents really wanted him to be a doctor. She’s eager to help people. He’s Emotionally Unavailable ™. She’s short. He’s tall. She wears bright red lipsticks and smiles a lot. He wears an array of neutral-colored shirts and never smiles. You get the picture that they are opposites and shall attract? 

The publishing house decides to hire a Managing Director, a promotion that both Lucy and Josh really want. Gasp! Lucy and Josh decide that whoever doesn’t get the job will have to quit immediately! No! A mundane elevator ride becomes a steamy make-out session for them! Double Gasp! (And also don’t think about it too hard because logic will cause everything to crumble like a sand castle!) Lucy pretends to date someone else! Twist! Josh might be jealous! Drama! Lucy gets sick and Josh cares for her very tenderly and attentively! Double twist! You know about where the rest is going! Absolutely no surprise there, which isn’t a bad thing!

Anyway, without spoiling too much, there’s a whole thing about him wanting her to be sure that she’s really into him before they get together. It absolutely makes sense, especially given his history. Unfortunately, the way the movie is written, it’s laid out like he’s trying to be mysterious, but it mostly doesn’t make sense. This is an area where I could absolutely see it working better in a book because there would be more time and space, but in this movie it’s all kind of crammed in and he ends up sounding a bit like a serial killer. The other parts that I can’t really reveal are the things that are supposed to demonstrate how long and deeply he’s been in love with Lucy, but I swear to the Goddess of Logic and Reason I would have bolted straight out into the night instead staying to play naked Gin Rummy, or whatever, like Lucy did. You need just a whole lot more character development to pull off the kind of utterly strange things that he did and not expect me to believe this man is not currently wanted by the FBI for some very heinous crimes. Also, while I did appreciate that the whole subterfuge (because you know there’s subterfuge) wasn’t mean spirited or too underhanded, it kind of involved a lot of people lying to someone for their “own good,” which I had a hard time getting past in time for the romantic kiss at the end.

My very favorite part of this movie, though, is when Lucy tells Josh that her parents are strawberry farmers in Vermont. Not berry farmers, which would make sense, because that could span an entire growing season, but just STRAWBERRY FARMERS, which you can harvest for about three weeks out of the entire year. Strawberry farmers! And it’s all for two very specific reasons, which have zero to do with the great state of Vermont. Could they have been changed to Maple Syrup purveyors? Yes. I can’t tell you how because of spoilers. She also pronounces Charlotte, Vermont like the name Charlotte and not like SharLOT, which is how I, at least, know how to say the town in Vermont. 

Of course, that part is really neither here nor there, but you better believe it was ALL I thought about for the rest of the movie. Okay, okay, some thoughts about Josh’s Genetically Blessedness may have snuck in there as well. Look, the acting is decent, the chemistry has fizz, and the sparring has barbs. At the same time the plot has enough holes to be called lacey, the storyline sometimes feels like a maze drawn by a child, and the characters lack some…character. Which makes it a perfectly good enough watch.

Overall Rating on the Chronically Streaming Pain Scale:

1-Comfortable: Maybe there are some annoying twinges here and there, but overall the good outweighs the bad.

I was torn between Comfortable and Meh mostly because of the things that made him feel like serial killer. Your romance mileage may vary.

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FINDING YOU (2021)

Several small pictures from the movie of the different characters arranged around a larger image of the two main characters. In black letters It says FINDING YOU. There is a graphic of an airplane flying from NYC to Ireland.

Who needs character development when you have Ireland? The characters in the romantic drama Finding You are just wafer thin. When the light hits them just so, I swear you can see through them, but against the verdant backdrop of Ireland that almost doesn’t matter. Okay, it does begin to matter when the movie drags on into a nearly two hour runtime, but you’re made of tough watching stuff, right? 

Finley (Rose Reid) is momentarily bummed when her violin audition isn’t enough to get her into music school, but she rebounds quickly (like, three minutes into the movie?) and decides to go on an exchange program to Ireland. It seems that this can just happen at the drop of a hat, which, I want any aspiring exchange students to know, it absolutely cannot. Her brother took advantage of the same program years ago, and he “found great peace there,” so Finley is hoping to find the same. She’ll even be staying with the same host family, which will be important until it’s not. On the plane, Finley doesn’t find peace, but she does get upgraded to First Class, which is kind of the same thing? It’s unclear if the flight attendant was trying to play cupid, but she’s seated next to an attractive young guy who turns out to be Beckett Rush (Jedidiah Goodacre), the very famous movie star. Hold onto your backends my friends, because Finley is unimpressed by his celebrity status, and kind of hates the pants off him. As we know from our vast expertise in this genre of movie, there is no greater sign of impending true love than these twin traits. She’s sure she won’t see him in Ireland, but lo and behold he’s filming his movie in the same small town and they’re going to run into each other every-fricking-where except the loo. Yes! It’s entirely true. 

The town is just about bursting with quirky, well-meaning kinds of people, including Finley’s host family. Her host sister, Emma, is played by Saoirse-Monica Jackson of Derry Girls fame. Midway through the movie, though, her character switches from buoyant to morose and silent. Like, I wanted to grab the camera and director’s chair and reframe the whole thing on Emma, so we could investigate the whole thing a bit better. It’s also just a bummer for us viewers who are robbed of her presence. There’s also an old fiddle player (Patrick Bergin) who just might teach Finley a few things about life and music. An older woman (Vanessa Redgrave) to whom Finley is assigned as a class project is known by the whole town as a mean, nasty old bugger, so you know she’s likely got a big old mushy heart beating behind her carefully constructed walls, and Finley is the wrecking ball. And, of course, there’s something very important about Finley’s brother and Ireland. 

The acting is at times as rocky as the Irish cliffs, the plot often as plodding as an old carthorse, and the leads have as little chemistry as baking soda and water. There are lines so unnatural that they should come with artificial flavor warnings. Has anyone ever spontaneously said, “Being in Ireland has taught me to look deeper. Things aren’t always what they seem.” First of all, it’s an amazing use of so many words to say absolutely nothing. Second of all, people are not greeting cards, so they don’t speak that way. 

Nevertheless, I don’t regret watching this movie. Young people discovering themselves and realizing their true potential is about as timeless a story as you can get, and I’m one hundred percent a sucker for it almost every time. And when you throw a crotchety, misunderstood older woman into the mix? Well, enough said.

Overall Rating on the Chronically Streaming Pain Scale:

2-Sometimes I have the distinct desire to remove an eyeball to relieve the pain, but I can’t complain too much. Drugs would dull the discomfort, but I can get through without.

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CAN YOU KEEP A SECRET? (2021)

Based on the best selling novel by Sophie Kinsella. The pitfalls and pleasures of telling the truth. A white outline of an airplane is making a white dotted line heart around the line "the pitfalls.... Tyler Hoechlin is whispering into Alexandra Daddario's ear while she smiles. Below them it has their names and then the movie title in yellow letters. And then it says From the producers of Bachelorette.

Can You Keep a Secret? is kind of a nothingburger of a rom-com whose lead actors manage to imbue it with enough charm to keep it from being an utter flop. 

After an awful meeting in Chicago where she fails to sell more Panda drinks for her company, Emma Corrigan (Alexandra Daddario) gets upgraded to first-class by a sympathetic flight attendant. Not only that, but as she’s gulping down glasses of free champagne, she learns her seat-mate is a man (Tyler Hoechlin) who is very easy on the eyes. When the plane hits some serious turbulence a somewhat inebriated Emma starts spilling all her secrets to her studly seat-mate. And when I say all, I mean ALL. She tells him how she’s never been in love. How she waters her coworker’s plant with orange juice. How she doesn’t know if she has a g-spot. How her boyfriend isn’t good at oral sex. It just keeps going and going, and the guy just keeps listening. It’s hard to tell if he’s enraptured or horrified, but he doesn’t  stop her until the plane has landed in New York. Emma is, of course, mortified, but assumes they’ll never see each other again. Ha! That’s only because Emma doesn’t know she’s in a movie. 

Anytoots, Emma tries to go back to her life as normal.   Her boyfriend Connor (David Ebert), who insists on wearing a shirt with no pants around the house (Nope!), asks her to move in with him. Really, need I say more about him? No. Her roommate Lissy (Sunita Mani) offers support. And their other roommate Gemma (Kimiko Glenn) drops by to offer terrible advice and wear outrageous outfits for comic effect. However, when Emma gets to work, she finds out that Jack Harper, the somewhat reclusive founder of the company, is going to be stopping by, and you’re NEVER EVER, EVER going to guess, but it turns out that he’s the guy from the plane! What?!? Pass me the smelling salts. He promises to keep Emma’s secrets. She promises not to tell people he was in Chicago. She breaks up with Connor. They start dating. There are kinda sparks? She tells him even more of her secrets. He tells her nothing. She goes on and on about how perfect he is and how he could have any woman he wanted. Ugh. This is kind of a problem. I am over this she’s every woman and he’s an adonis storyline. I get it’s appeal, but it’s so problematic. Also, there is some “joke” about how he’s “deformed.” It’s not funny. He’s also her supervisor and neither of them thought it might be wise to disclose their relationship in some way that thoughtfully protected her from people assuming that any future promotions weren’t based on merit alone. This is sort of addressed by Laverne Cox (who is grossly wasted in this movie) but, like most things in this movie, it’s written like a shrug. 

And a shrug is overall how I feel about Can You Keep a Secret? The leads are attractive enough and they’re both actors I usually enjoy, but here they mostly feel like sparkling water left out too long. It’s not terrible, but it’s also not going to liven up your life much. 

Overall Rating on the Chronically Streaming Pain Scale:

Distressing: I’m so uncomfortable. I wonder if this will ever stop. I might want to be sedated.

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TALL GIRL (2019)

"WHEN YOU DON'T FIT IN, STAND TALL." Jodi stands in the center of a high school hallway of lockers. Around her are several of the movie's characters. Her sister, dressed as a beauty queen is in front of her, blowing a kiss. At the bottom it says: A Netflix Film TALL GIRL

The only reason I succumbed to watching Tall Girl is because I saw that they made a sequel, and I felt it was my solemnly sworn duty to investigate if there was anything about the original that merited an entire second movie. No. There is not. In the year of our Streaming Services 2019, people made a movie entirely about the trials and tribulations of being a thin, upper-middle class, blonde-haired, blue-eyed, conventionally attractive teenage girl who happens to be very tall, and they made it with no caveats or acknowledgements of privilege. And the school she attends? Ruby Bridges High. Look, high school sucks in a myriad of ways, but let’s try to hold onto just a smidge of context and self-awareness.

Jodi (Ava Michelle) has been tall her entire life. Like, really tall. Like, to the point that her parents (Angela Kinsey and Steve Zahn ) have been concerned and taken her to doctors. Now that she’s in high school, she’s 6″ 1′, and she hates it. People call her names like Lebron and ask her, “How’s the weather up there?” In the beginning of the movie she asks us, “You think your life is hard? I’m a high school junior wearing size thirteen Nikes. Men’s size thirteen Nikes.” Again, I’m not saying this wouldn’t make high school difficult. I’m just begging for a single crumb of self-awareness on the part of Sam Wolfson, who wrote both the first and second Tall Girl movies. Jodi has a best friend named Fareeda (Anjelika Washington), who is Black and just wants Jodi to learn to love herself and stop caring about what other people think and have some god damn fun with her. No, really, that’s practically ALL we know about Fareeda. At some point she makes a crack about how it would be nice if her friends asked about her problems, but it goes ignored. And another time we learn she wants to go to fashion school, but only because it was Jodi’s advice that helped reach that decision. Jack Dunkleman (Griffin Gluck), who, for reasons yet unknown carries an apple crate instead of a backpack, has loved Jodi since they were young kids, which he tells her ad nauseam. If you’ve read more than half of one of my reviews you know this never sits well with me. The boundary between cute-but-persistent pest and downright abusive is all kinds of blurry and society doesn’t even acknowledge there is a difference. Jack, or whatever nickname he goes by, also makes some “joke” about how she shouldn’t have babies with a tall man because then she’ll have to have a c-section, which will scar her perfect body, at which point my soul left my own perfectly scarred and stretched body. There are certainly more things I could point out, but in order to make it through this movie without my ears bleeding, I had to only half listen. (This is where I’m forced to admit that in an hour and forty-one minutes of forcing my eyeballs to watch this unflavored instant oatmeal grow cold and solid, the only thing that kind of got me was the schtick with the fucking apple cart.) Jodi doesn’t think of him romantically, of course, and just wants a boyfriend who is tall. Oh, wait! Jodi is also, like, smart. We know this because at the beginning of the movie she’s explaining Confederacy of Dunces to some dude-bro and later she’s reading The Goldfinch in her room. (I mean, no wonder she’s so sad. That book is wicked depressing.) Jodi also has an older sister, Harper (Sabrina Carpenter), who is not so smart, which we know because she’s in beauty pageants and studying hotel management, and you never get to be both a smart woman and a beauty queen in movies like this one. Harper isn’t tall, so Jodi obviously thinks she’s pretty much perfect, but Harper has allergies, which makes her not quite perfect—because let’s keep shaming people for things over which they have no control? Ew. 

So then, Stig (Luke Eisner), an exchange student from Sweden, shows up on the scene, and he is extremely tall and blonde and handsome and, quite frankly, looks strikingly like Jodi, which I find very creepy, but also isn’t acknowledged by the movie. Jodi thinks he’s the solution to all her “tall girl” woes, but before she can say, “jag behöver hjälp,” resident hot girl and Jodi’s long-time tormenter, Kimmy Stitcher (Clara Wilsey) snaps him up like IKEA meatballs on BOGO special. Turns out, back home Stig isn’t even considered tall or hot, so he’s all kinds overwhelmed by his newfound status as hunk-of-the-hour. I’m mostly distracted by how much bronzer they chose to use on his face. Anyway, you know basically what’s going to happen. Or at least that things are going to end with a poorly written, impassioned speech about how just being yourself will solve all your troubles—says the white girl standing on the stage at Ruby Bridges High School.  

Overall Rating on the Chronically Streaming Pain Scale:

4-Agony: Holy hell. Everything is awful. Is this for real? I can’t remember when anything was good. Give me all the drugs at once.

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MIXTAPE (2021)

GEMMA BROOKE ALLEN with NICK THUNE and JULIE BOWEN. Beverly is on her back on the grass blowing a pink bubble of bubble gum. She's wearing old-style foam headphones that are outlined in yellow drawing. They lead to a walkman (tape) where you can see Kim loves Zach mix tape. Around her are pictures of her friends and her grandmother.

This is a sweet, somewhat improbable story of a middle school girl in the late 1990s finding connection, friendship, and a sense of self via a mixtape left behind by her dead teenage counterculture parents. The movie sags a bit in the middle when it seems that not even the creators know quite what to do with the unbelievable scenario they back their characters into, but it rallies enough for a heartwarming ending that might skew a little toward saccharine, but I prefer to view as hopeful.

Beverly (Gemma Brooke Allen) has been raised by her grandmother Gail (Julie Bowen) since her parents died when she was only two. Before you have a full-blown panic attack about Julie Bowen playing a grandmother to a twelve-year-old, please note that both Gail and Beverly’s mother had their babies when they were sixteen. Beverly lives an isolated, friendless existence with Gail, who works lots of hours as a postal worker to save for Beverly’s college fund and worries about Y2K. They both live in separate silos of grief: Gail wants to keep out memories of the past, which she finds painful and Beverly is constantly searching for clues as to what her parents were like. While cleaning out the basement in preparation for Y2K, Beverly stumbles upon a mixtape that her parents made, which is filled with kinds of music she’s never heard. She’s thrilled to have this connection to the past, but on her first listen, the tape gets eaten by the walkman and breaks. Heartbroken, she takes the list of songs to a local record store, which is, of course, run by a very grumpy man named Anti (Nick Thune), who begrudgingly helps her with her mission. The music opens worlds, both figurative and literal, for Beverly. The songs help her connect with a new neighbor named Ellen (Audrey Hsieh) and the middle school rebel Nicky (Olga Pesta). Together, they dedicate themselves to finding all the songs on the tape, which Beverly hopes will reveal a hidden message from her parents. The best parts of the movie are the three of them becoming friends, sharing pre-teen girl secrets, giggling, arguing, supporting each other, and building community. 

Nothing in this movie is going to surprise you, but, honestly, you’re probably watching a movie like this more for comfort than startling upsets. It’s a good thing to curl up with on an afternoon when you’ve read one too many stories about some guy grossly abusing his power. Again. Here, instead, you’ll get girls bravely asserting themselves, believing that sharing truths will keep ghosts at bay, finding joy in self-expression and exploring the deep platonic love of friendship.

Overall Rating on the Chronically Streaming Pain Scale:

1-Comfortable: Maybe there are some annoying twinges here and there, but overall the good outweighs the bad.

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BOOK OF LOVE (2022)

A mexican style house and tiled roof with paper bunting. Sam Claflin and Verónica Echegui stand against the yellow wall where a heart with a flame coming out says BOOK OF LOVE SOME THINGS CAN GET LUST IN TRANSLATION!

Book of Love really nails the chemistry between its two attractive leads. Even when they still dislike each other, you can feel the crackling undercurrent of attraction. The movie also handily smacks down some misogynistic tropes and uplifts the very sexy ideal that a good man is one who publicly acknowledges a woman’s work. Rawr. However, it could have been so much better. The comedic writing is lackluster, so humorous jabs and barbs feel more like splats and eye-pokes, which brings down the overall vibe of the sparring couple-to-be. Perhaps to make up for its lack of pith and wit, it leans a bit in lewdness, which detracts from the rom-com pep and buoyancy. And, with a runtime of one hour and forty-six minutes, the whole shebang lags and drags a bit, which is the last thing you want from a frothy, predictable, delectable romantic comedy.

Henry Copper (Sam Claflin), an uptight, slightly bumbling, but very attractive British man, very much in the tradition of Hugh Grant, has written The Sensible Heart, a romance novel that is selling horribly; so poorly, in fact, that the book store is offering a “buy one, get take three” special. It’s no great surprise since Henry believes that if love is going to survive it “cannot be crazy or hot or sweaty or naked, but instead must be practical.” I have a lot of questions. Like, who bought this manuscript to begin with? And then who published a lot of copies of it?  There certainly is a market for books like this, just not a mass market one. Are we just to understand that white male privilege allowed him to fail upwards to this point? Because that I can believe. Anyway, in a meeting with his publisher Jen (Lucy Punch, who is so grossly wasted that I can hardly speak of it without sobbing), Henry learns that his book in Spanish translation has become a huge hit in Mexico. At this point we are clinging to verisimilitude by a single strand of decades old spider’s web. 

Jen hands Henry a tablet, instructs him to get on social media, and bustles him off to Mexico for a book tour where he’ll be met by the translator of his book, M.F. Rodríguez. Obviously, Henry assumes that M.F. Rodríguez is a man, so he’s in for a real shocker when he gets to Mexico and learns that M.F. stands for Maria Fernanda (Verónica Echegui, who is Spanish and not Mexican, which is kind of meh, you know? Because there are plenty of really talented Mexican actresses.) She is an attractive, competent woman who hates his writing, and picks him up in her old Volkswagen Beetle with her grandfather (Fernando Becerril) and young son (Ruy Gaytan) in tow; her ex-husband  (Horacio Garcia Rojas) has, once again, bailed on his fatherly commitments. 

You don’t need a crystal ball to see where any of this is going. On the way to the first engagement, Henry starts getting explicit messages from fans, which he finds offensive and confusing. At the event, which is packed with swooning, horny fans, the truth comes out that Maria rewrote his book into a very sensual and sexual romance. Henry is super duper pissed that she stole his work and made it sexy. Maria is super duper pissed that the only way she can write and be published is under a man’s name, especially an uptight man who writes boring books. (I’m kind of irked that no one in this movie about words seems to differentiate between translator and interpreter.) To succeed, they must stick together for the rest of the book tour and possibly beyond. Whatever will happen to these two very opposite people who see the world and understand love so differently?!?

You see how this has so much potential. It follows the tried and true rom-com formula, but with an idea that feels fresh and not misogynistic. Maria tells Henry that all she’s ever wanted was to write, but instead she’s had to take care of men. You don’t generally hear that perspective laid out so bluntly in a rom-com, and I’m very here for it. Though I truly wish they had chosen to take a different direction with Maria’s ex, whose character I felt undermined a lot of what they were trying to say and do with her character. 

But, oof, the dialogue sucked so much of the air out of the movie. Maria tells Henry that he breathes differently because of all the roast beef they eat in England. What? I’m going to need a guidebook to get the punchline of that joke. Most of the jokes felt like that: confusing and unfunny attempts at humor that left me distracted. Plus, and this is a real question, are fans of erotic books usually horny for the author? Henry’s fans seem to be very turned on about being in his presence. Is that the way it usually works? I honestly don’t know, but the way it was portrayed certainly made my eyeballs roll uncontrollably while watching the movie. 

That said, you know I can’t be too hard on a movie that actively defends romance as a genre. When Henry is offended that someone compares his (rewritten) book to a telenovela, Maria comes to their defense, saying they “contain drama, excitement, emotion, story.” Which, fuck yeah! Burn down the idea of guilty pleasures and let only pleasures rise from the ashes. Which means, whatever joy you get from this movie—whether it’s the Genetically Blessed Faces, the chemistry, the attempts at humor, the storyline, the romance, the predictability, or something else entirely—go ahead and own it, because it’s a win in my book.

Overall Rating on the Chronically Streaming Pain Scale:

1-Comfortable: Maybe there are some annoying twinges here and there, but overall the good outweighs the bad.

I’m being generous with this rating. It really could have also been Meh. I was on the fence, but was feeling benevolent.

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I WANT YOU BACK (2022)

AMAZON ORIGINAL MOVIE Jenny Slate and Charlie Day stand next to each other looking ahead with skeptical expressions. Closer to the camera and out of focus are two people about to lock lips. the text below says: Their exes have moved on. They haven't. Charlie Day, Jenny Slate, Scott Eastwood, Manny Jacinto, Clark Backo, and Gina Rodriguez. I WANT YOU BACK. FEB. 11 PRIME VIDEO

Have you seen the meme of the white woman trying kombucha for the first time? Her face goes from disgusted to impressed to disgusted to happy to just kind of shrugging. That’s kind of my emotional arc in watching I Want You Back. The movie stars Jenny Slate and Charlie Day, who are funny, but don’t look like typical rom-com leads, which means that some critics are going to wax poetic about how “different” and “fresh” and “innovative” a movie it is. It’s not. Look, this is a mostly okay rom-com that runs close to two hours, which is just too long. As always, be wary of the rom-com with a Metacritic score in the green. 

Emma (Jenny Slate) gets dumped by her personal trainer boyfriend of eighteen months, Noah (Scott Eastwood), because she doesn’t have clear professional goals—she works as a receptionist in an orthodontist’s office—and she’s still living with a couple who are pre-law college students as roommates. (Years ago, she dropped out of college to take care of her dad, and then she never figured out finishing school or getting her own place.) Noah has also fallen for Ginny (Clark Backo), a woman who owns a pie place down the street from his gym who is basically everything Emma is not. Emma, on the other hand, thought Noah would be her “airplane safety mask person”—the person whose oxygen mask she would put on before her own. Friends, this little nugget is key to the entire movie. Hold onto it and don’t let it go.

At the same time, Peter (Charlie Day) gets dumped by his girlfriend of six years, Anne (Gina Rodriguez), because he’s too safe and boring. Anne always saw herself as a free-spirited, traveling artist, and Peter has traded his dream of revolutionizing eldercare for a job with a soul-sucking senior-living conglomerate. She trades him in for a seemingly worldly middle school drama teacher, Logan (Manny Jacinto), who is staging a production of “Little Shop of Horrors.”

Peter and Emma meet when they’re both sobbing in the stairwell of their office building. After some bonding, drinking, and karaoke, they decide to help each other out by breaking up their exes’ new relationships. Peter will sign up for Noah’s personal training, befriend him, and show him Ginny’s flaws. Emma will infiltrate the middle school play as a volunteer and seduce Logan. What could possibly go right? Well, Peter and Noah do become friends and Peter discovers that he doesn’t mind working out. Of course, his plan to break up Peter and Ginny backfires entirely. Noah and Peter go out one night to a club, meet up with some women who take them back to their place where things get wild. Some other guys show up, there are drugs, there’s a whole thing with jumping into a hot tub from a second floor window. Then Peter realizes that the women aren’t actually women, but teenage girls. Hold on. Wait a second. I thought we all made a mutual pact to stop the grown men getting “tricked” by teenage girls schtick? Or anything that makes light of a grown person interacting with a minor in any kind of sexual way. Anyway, a father shows up. Peter says all kinds of things that are totally innocent, but out of context sound like he’s interested in children. I’m shouting at the screen that there are so many other jokes to be made that don’t involve any of this. Not grown men and underage girls. Not grown men “accidentally” sounding like pedophiles. Just none of it. Burn it all. Anyway, the scene will make me realize you physically can’t remove your ears, and it makes Noah realize he wants to marry Ginny. Oopsy doodles. 

On the other side of things, Emma inserts herself into middle school, where she unexpectedly meets a snarky, frustrated middle schooler (Luke David Blumm, who is pretty great) who she takes under her wing, which later helps her understand her own personal aspirations. She flirts mercilessly with Logan, who is quite open to her advances, as long as she’s also willing to include Anne. (I’m also pretty bored with awkward threesome jokes.) The highlight of Emma’s foray into volunteerism is when she replaces the middle schooler playing Audrey, who is out with pink eye, at a dress rehearsal to sing an incredibly emotional rendition of  “Suddenly Seymour” (assisted by a fantastic Manny Magnus). It’s a bizarre, absurd, and touching scene. 

Slate and Day work well together comedically, but they don’t really have any strong romantic chemistry. That’s mostly okay in this case since most of the movie doesn’t feel like it’s about them falling in love so much as it is about them figuring out their paths separately and together. Plus, as Emma says to Peter, “Anyone can be a one-night bang. But the slow burn who gets under your skin, that’s more rare. That’s your airplane safety mask person.” The movie falls short of  really conveying that slow burn between Emma and Peter, but it tells you about it enough that maybe you sort of start to believe it’s there? 

Overall Rating on the Chronically Streaming Pain Scale:

2-Sometimes I have the distinct desire to remove an eyeball to relieve the pain, but I can’t complain too much. Drugs would dull the discomfort, but I can get through without.

I might have rated this comfortable, but I’m so irked by people waxing poetic about how it’s different just because it stars people they think are smarter than other people who usually star in rom-coms that I absolutely refuse.

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