Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A Lot Like Love A Romantic Comedy Well Above The Curve

The Good: Funny, Well plotted, Good characters, Surprisingly good acting, DVD extras, Good pop soundtrack
The Bad: Ends where one expects, Failure of Emily to evolve
The Basics: A solid romantic comedy, A Lot Like Love gives Ashton Kutcher a chance to shine as an actor and impress the viewer with a smart, wonderful role.

It seems somehow fitting that day after I finally get around to writing a review for one of the best romantic comedies of all time, When Harry Met Sally (reviewed here!) that I find another decent romantic comedy. No one is more surprised than I that Ashton Kutcher could act in a film that is actually a surprisingly good all-around romantic comedy. No qualifiers, no limitations, solidly good on its own merits. The movie is A Lot Like Love and on DVD the only real question I had about it was why the few deleted scenes were not put back into this 107 minute gem.

Emily and Oliver meet in an airport when Emily dumps her boyfriend and Oliver is traveling to see his brother. Aboard the plane, the two hook up in the bathroom and Oliver begins following Emily around New York City. At the end of the day, they part ways. Years later, on a New Year's Eve when Emily is dumped by her boyfriend, she journeys through her rolodex and finds Oliver's number. The two spend the evening together and they renew their friendship (no sex this time) and Oliver moves on to start an internet business. What follows is the rise and fall of Oliver and the intersections of Emily in his life at various points as they build a relationship over the course of about a decade.

Like When Harry Met Sally. . ., the strength of A Lot Like Love is that the film does not insult the viewer with the idea that real romance happens in a short span of time. Relationships are built and they develop, they do not simply happen in the convenient Hollywood notion of three dates, one date or one sexual encounter. One of the distinctive differences between this movie and the earlier classic is that while When Harry Met Sally . . . builds toward the protagonists making love, sex is one of the first things out of the way in A Lot Like Love. This eliminates a lot of the sexual tension of a young relationship and - while it's not the usual type of thing I find entertaining or worthwhile - here it works to the advantage of the story and the characters.

Like all great stories, A Lot Like Love has decent and dynamic characters. Oliver starts the film as a young man with no real plans, no idea where his future might take him and he develops. He comes up with an idea for an internet company - a diaper business over the Net -, he sacrifices relationships for it, builds it up . . . and it collapses on him. Throughout his rise and fall professionally, his life intersects with Emily's and this allows the viewer to suspend the disbelief that over all the years they could form such a meaningful relationship (when they only seem able to spend a few days together at a time throughout much of their history.

Emily does not develop as much. Oliver has a genuine impact on her life; when he gives her his camera, she becomes a photographer, ditching her plan of becoming an actress. But personally, she is very similar at the end as she is in the beginning. To wit, she is spontaneous in the beginning in such a way that she does not seem the type to want - or able - to settle down with one person. At the end, she is able to do the plot-convenient action that she is able to because of that same character trait. Ironically, in her list of traits she objects to in Oliver, she mentions the fact that he hooked up with her in the plane bathroom. But it is exactly that quality in Emily that allows for the resolution to the movie; she gripes that he seems noncommittal, yet it is her who takes this to the next level.

Throughout A Lot Like Love, though, Amanda Peet gives a consistently great performance. Unlike characters I've seen her play before, like the wannabe hitman in The Whole Nine Yards (reviewed here!), here Peet is deeply human, expressive on a number of levels and balances the comedic and dramatic elements of the script perfectly. Peet does not play Emily like a "type," making it hard to reduce the character to a simple "free spirit" archetype that we see in romantic comedies far too often. No, here, Peet is vibrant and varied in her performance, but consistently giving everything she can to the character on the page.

The surprising performance here comes from Ashton Kutcher. In my evaluation of Dude, Where's My Car? (review here!), I noted that Kutcher was perfectly cast as a slack-jawed stoner. In A Lot Like Love, the man proves he can ACT! Kutcher begins the story as a directionless young man who is soft-spoken, subtle and feeling his way nervously out into life. Near the end of the movie, Kutcher is playing a character who has been broken by failure, a man who had the world and had it torn away from him. These are two dramatically different performances and a sloppy actor would play the resulting conditions (i.e. living with his parents, expressions of emotional abandonment, etc.) the same. Kutcher, wisely, plays them entirely differently. In fact, it is Kutcher's performance of how Oliver takes the radical changes in his life that make the viewer completely able to "buy" the character direction. Kutcher's embodiment of Oliver at the onset of the film makes it inconceivable that he would pursue Emily (which is why he does not). Following his failure, he plays Oliver as a man who understands the world will beat him down and he is more open to attempting. Kutcher adds the believability into the character that makes him vital and believable through convincing changes in body language and speech patterns throughout the movie.

All in all, this is a romantic comedy that works very well. The DVD has a decent commentary track, a gag reel and deleted scenes that belong back in the movie. It's certainly short enough that it didn't need them extracted for time! This will be appreciated by anyone who likes a good romantic comedy and it's surprisingly appropriate for a wide audience (it surprised me it's even PG-13). It's funny, charming, well acted and a well told story. What more could one want?

For other works with Kathryn Hahn, be sure to check out my reviews of:
The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard
Revolutionary Road
Step Brothers
The Holiday
Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy


Check out how this movie stacks up against other films by visiting my Movie Review Index Page where the films are organized from best to worst!

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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