Watching a romantic comedy can be so strange. A lot of the time they seem to disregard either the "romantic" or the "comedy" part altogether and it is very rare that the two actually meet and create a great movie. Such was the trouble I had today with two so-called romantic comedies that I caught on DVD today. Where Management had a charming romance, I found it lacking in the comedy, despite there being quite definite "you're meant to be laughing at this" moments. And then I watched The Proposal, which brought the comedy, but botched up the romance. I know it isn't a popular feeling amongst cinephiles, but where's Nora Ephron when I need her?
Management is the directorial debut of Stephen Belber, known before as the writer of Tape and the stage version of The Laramie Project. It's a flawed movie, definitely, but one that works as a nice introduction and features a divine performance from Jennifer Aniston. I have been a defender of Aniston for a long time now, I actually think her supporting role in an earlier 2009 romantic comedy He's Just Not That Into You was particularly fine, but here she is quite something. Her comic timing is still there although it is in service of writing that isn't particularly laugh out loud funny, but it is dented by moments that reveal a truly sad and lonely woman underneath. I might have expected this from a film by a more accommodating director - the performance is similar in ideas and tone as Nicole Holofcener's Friends With Money in that way - but she transcends the material and provides the film with something genuinely special.
Unfortunately, as I've already stated, the film is flawed. Initial scenes position it as a quirk-fest, although that is thankfully ditched for a prolonged series of awkwardness that reminded me of Me and You and Everything We Know in the way it revealed its main characters (the male lead is Steve Zahn) as some deeply self-loathing individuals. Before long it goes on weird sidetracks involving stalking and a Buddhist monastery and then Woody Harrelson shows up as a jacked up yogurt entrepreneur. Meanwhile it does so with an unexciting visual pallet. And yet by film's end there was something lovely about way it resolved itself, doing so in a place that I wouldn't have expected at the beginning. B-
Anne Fletcher's The Proposal on the other hand I found, and I don't mind admitting this one little bit, had me laughing more than I expected. It too begins on a bum note with its The Devil Wears Prada ripoff credit sequence, but once it gets into the story at hand it finds its groove and remains there for the most part. Yes, there are actually people out there who see movies such as this just to tear them apart, but I imagine many who enjoy this sort of thing - watching Sandra Bullock do her shtick, watching Ryan Reynolds be sexy and so on - will indeed like it. I think the quite astonishing box office proves that.
Where the film trips up is the romance side. While it's more than acceptable that these two characters might find themselves understanding each other over one weekend, when the big climax comes around it doesn't feel earned. I still didn't particularly believe that these two would actually be in love with each other. Take Nora Ephron's You've Got Mail - perhaps the last truly great traditional rom-com - and you can see how to do the two-people-who-hate-each-other-but-grow-to-love approach. Still, Bullock is fun on screen (let's not talk about that strange tribal dancing rap bit though) and also has several dramatic moments that show perhaps that upcoming Oscar nomination for The Blind Side isn't all that off base. Ryan Reynolds is a pleasant surprise as her love interest, too. That he's sexy and adorable and all of that is certainly a plus, but watching him navigate the boardroom sequence (above) or the immigration office scene is a pleasure. I'd still take While You Were Sleeping over it any day of the week though. B-
Of course, then you have movies like The Ugly Truth that are neither funny nor romantic in the slightest, and are actually repugnant, repulsive and, yes indeed, ugly. And while it should be common sense for any actor doing an accent apparently Gerard Butler didn't get the memo: if the audience can see you contorting your face to produce an accent then you're not doing a good job. That Butler butchered, mangled and tortured that absurd attempt at an American accent should put an end to casting director hiring him again to do something similar. That accent coming out of that rough - he looks rough and not in the sexy way - and bloated face would normally be enough to give the film a D-, but everything else around him is so willing to go along with the ride. The only thing stopping that grade getting worse is Katherine Heigl. She's so perky.
Speaking of perky...
...doesn't that just make you shudder?