A film review by Craig J. Koban

 

A LOT LIKE LOVE jjj

2005, PG-13, 96 mins.

Oliver Geary: Ashton Kutcher / Emily Friehl: Amanda Peet / Michelle: Kathryn Hahn / Jeeter: Kal Penn / Gina: Ali Larter / Ellen Geary: Taryn Manning / Peter: Gabriel Mann / Ben: Jeremy Sisto /

Directed by Nigel Cole / Written by Colin Patrick Lynch

 

A LOT LIKE LOVE sure feels a lot like WHEN HARRY MET SALLY.  The similarities between the two are so numerous that it seems to beg the question – can a film still entertain when it is hopelessly derivative at its core? 

I think that under certain circumstances...yes. 

Romantic dramadies are a dime a dozen these days and so many have ridden in on the coattails of Rob Riener’s trend setting work that it’s hard to not to draw comparisons.  That Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal film essentially created a benchmark for the genre.  There is essentially nothing inherently new or fresh about A LOT LIKE LOVE in the sense that it is your paint-by-numbers boy meets girl, boy wins over girl, boy loses girl, then reclaims girl, and then…ah…you get the picture.  In all fairness, the film is nothing original and is more or less a Gen-X WHEN HARRY MET SALLY for the slacker generation. 

However, I don’t mean any of that to be overtly cruel to the film.  A LOT LIKE LOVE may be woefully pedestrian and formulaic, but then again, what good romantic comedy is not?  I think that of all of the genres this one has the least lofty of aspirations.  Dramas intend to move and penetrate us deeply; comedies want us to laugh hysterically; action Sci-Fi films are meant to wow us over with their kinetic visuals; and romantic comedies, I think, inspire us to like their affable and lovable characters, root them on to finally get together in the film’s final act, and live happily ever after.  This is the basic formula that can either be hurt or saved by a good cast or a weak follow-through in the script department. 

THE WEDDING DATE was completely done in based on the fact that you could not buy into its premise of a gorgeous woman paying $6000 for a male gigolo to attend a wedding with her (please?!) and the two lovers themselves were so emotionally impenetrable and unlikeable that you just did not care in the end.  Contrastingly, in the wonderful FEVER PITCH, the formula is present, but the film won me over with its humanized characters, unique script, and its two great performances by Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore.  In that entry…you really wanted them together at the end. 

A LOT LIKE LOVE is not not nearly the train wreck that was THE WEDDING DATE, nor is it quite the equal of FEVER PITCH.  Yet, what it does it does adequately as it tells yet another story of two polar opposites who find small ways to connect and, through a series of life’s little hurdles, manage to work through their respective differences and forge a relationship.  Yet, the saving grace of this film is not its predictable narrative or its insights into the human condition.  Rather,  A LOT LIKE LOVE is an ultimately satisfying, endearing, and modestly entertaining film because of the chemistry of its two leads and the way they inspire our buy-in.  The two, played rather effectively by Ashton Kutcher and Amanda Peet, carry the film above its plot of illogical contrivances.   Sure, the film is marred by its own idiosyncratic tone and its general lack of focus (at times, it does not seem too sure how far to push either the comedy or drama), but Peet and Kutcher are charming enough and have a pleasant and effortless repartee that they seem to single-handedly allow the film to achieve the humble goals it aspires to.   

That, I think, is the key to every romantic film.  If the two leads don’t enthuse our empathy and yearning for them to get together, then the film is sunk.  If the chemistry is there and the leads are appealing, then that can save even the most dim-witted of scripts.  The film itself is based on one of those incredible assumptions that young people have no idea of what a good thing they have when they meet a potential soul mate and instead decide to prolong their respected agony until they realize that they have loved each other from the beginning.  In a way,  A LOT LIKE LOVE feels both sort of sitcomish and real. 

The script itself does offer some fresh insights into the minds of a younger generation that puts off marriage in order to achieve some larger goal of self-discovery, or to see if a bigger grand plan will materialize.  The only little slip the film makes is that it places these concepts and ideas in a flimsy framework that is a bit confused.  There are times when the film is genuinely funny and there are other times when it pushes too hard for juvenile laughs.  Similarly, there are times when the film achieves subtle and small moments of emotion that ring true and then there are times when the drama is forced fed on us so hard that we feel like hitting ourselves on the head with a large, blunt instrument.  If A LOT LIKE LOVE did not suffer from multiple-personality disorder, it just might have been something bigger and better. 

The film, much like WHEN HARRY MET SALLY, is constructed as a series of “meet-cutes” between Oliver (Kutcher) and Emily (Peet) over a span of years.  The main little difference between the two films is that this time the set of lovers are, at the beginning, just barely in their twenties and seem to struggle with their abilities to manage what the first few years of adulthood have to offer.  The film opens “seven years ago” and Oliver, a recent College graduate with no instant prospects, manages to lock eyes with Emily, and anyone that has ever glanced at Amanda Peet will instantly understand why he does so.  Both of them are at the LA International airport and are waiting to board the next flight out to the Big Apple.  Conveniently, they are both going there on the exact same plane.  Go figure. 

Emily has just had a rather public break-up with her pig-headed rocker boyfriend, a moment that Oliver witnesses at the airport parking lot.  She, at this point in her life, appears like a glam rock obsessed beauty queen, but it seems like an act.  Oliver is a shy, reserved, and soft-spoken young idealist, which is maybe why she seems so instantly attracted to him (he is the foil to her last man).  Needless to say, after they exchange a few looks, they manage to physical lock horns in the airplane’s bathroom and, I am inferring, join the mile high club in the process.   

After they land the two then embark on a day of sight seeing together.  They manage to hit it off, but both don’t seem very interested in a long-term relationship.  The day ends with a wager of sorts.  It seems that Emily does not think that Oliver will be able to attain the status of a wealthy, successful businessman with a gorgeous wife in...say...six years.  Oliver feels that he will achieve all of that and more.  He is an entrepreneur in the making and has a concept of a big Internet business that will net him huge amounts of money in the future (remember, at this time, internet businesses were simply not as prevalent).  Anyway, he wagers $20 that he will succeed and in order to win the bet he gives her his parents' phone number.  Why his parents?  Well, the way he sees it, he will move before they ever will again, thus, they’ll be able to give her the necessary contact information.  The two then part and go their separate ways. 

The film then engages in its overwhelming structure of flash forwards.  Soon the film proceeds three years later where the hapless Emily manages to find herself being dumped - yet again -  by her current boyfriend.  She now has to face the prospect of being dateless for New Year’s Eve.  Before she elicits the services of a $6000 man-whore, she manages to stumble across Oliver’s phone number.  She calls the family number and manages to actually get in touch with Oliver.  He is just in the process of moving out in an effort to give his Internet company a shot.  He easily agrees to be her date.  By the end of the night the two -  yet again -  drift apart.  The film then proceeds to flash forward again and again, sometimes years...sometimes months, and the couple meets again and breaks apart, so much that you want to slap some sense into them until finally, if you had to guess, they realize the errors of their ways and get together…for good.   

The film’s plot configuration kind of precludes the audience to stare up at the screen and wonder, “Why the hell didn’t they just get together and stay together from the very beginning?”  Well, firstly, if they did just that, there would be no film.  Secondly, I would argue that, at times, young love is arrogant, shortsighted, and a bit more than naïve.  A LOT LIKE LOVE seems to aggressively test the adage of whether true love is ever meant to be or not.  Yes, when the two lovers appear together, right from the beginning, we know that they should stay together and not look back, but they fail to acknowledge that.  In this way, the film sort of has an underbelly of melancholy and small truth to it.  Every time they reacquaint themselves, it’s obvious to us – yet again – that they should just hook up and shut up, but they again fail to be able to find the ways to commit. 

They both go through a series of partners that, at least from the script’s view of them, are more or less just puppets and story development points to help propel the lovers back together (the way the script finds ways to make these other lovers as unappealing as possible is kind of shameful).  But, at the end of the day, when the two do realize the complete inanity and foolishness of their past decisions regarding one another, we as the audience breath a collective sigh of relief and relish in their final revelations, as most good romantic comedies should inspire us to feel. 

It’s just so dang easy for any modern, nihilistic audience member to approach this film and rip it apart by its overly sentimental edges.  I for one have seen films similar to A LOT LIKE LOVE come and go – they are definitely a dime a dozen these days.  Yet, the film does have an appeal and sort of an effervescent vitality and humour about itself in ways most manufactured and dull romantic comedies do not.  The film is sincere with its characters and Peet, as gorgeous as ever, creates a warm-hearted and kind figure in Emily while Kutcher manages to find a balance between broad, physical humour and tender and noble minded sentiment.  For the most part, A LOT LIKE LOVE delivers on what it promises – it forges a fairly delightful comic romp and romance picture that finds a heartfelt center for the story and creates two characters that we like and want the best for.  To criticize this film as redundant and predictable misses the point altogether.  The film is not trying to preach, teach, or inspire.   It’s a fairly enjoyable, entertaining, and well-meaning tale where the actors are allowed to shine and create the type of tangible chemistry we demand in these types of films.  A LOT LIKE LOVE is inoffensively delightful and engaging.

 

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