The Romantics (2010)
★★ / ★★★★
Seven friends gathered at a beach house for a celebration. Lila (Anna Paquin) and Tom (Josh Duhamel) were about to get married. But Laura (Katie Holmes), Lila’s bridesmaid and good friend, was still in love with Tom. Tom also had lingering feelings for Laura but he was reluctant to sacrifice a life of stability. The remaining four friends (Malin Akerman, Jeremy Strong, Adam Brody, Rebecca Lawrence) knew that there was an awkward tension among Lila, Tom, and Laura but no one dared to bring up the most obvious questions. They would rather drown themselves in alcohol and numb themselves with drugs. “The Romantics,” directed and based on a novel by Galt Niederhoffer, somewhat managed to capture the confusion of almost thirtysomethings: how each of them defined happiness, the sacrifices necessary so they wouldn’t be alone down the road, and the so-called friendships they desperately clung onto. They were a very unlikable bunch because they were all about their self-interests. Rich, poor, or somewhere in the middle, we all know people like them. We might even be one of them. My main concern and disappointment with the film was its execution in terms of its attempt to explore the characters. The group of friends was far from being romantics. The night before Lila and Tom’s wedding, we learned that they earned the label in college because the seven of them slept with each other to the point were it was “almost incestuous.” While the speeches over dinner the night before the big wedding was fun to listen to because it revealed the truth about how the five friends viewed the upcoming marriage, the events that came after, such as Tom going missing and Laura feeling the need to look for him, felt convenient and predictable. Genuinely getting to know the other friends, which was key because they were important people in Lila and Tom’s lives, was thrown out the window. Instead, we saw them getting naked, cheating on each other, and doing drugs. It wasn’t even done in a darkly comic, sexy, or fun way. We were just there to watch as detached audiences and I was left wondering why the writer-director felt the need to show us such scenes. Was she attempting to highlight the emptiness in these characters’ lives? If so, I didn’t feel a defined point of view, a driving force, or a specific lens designed to convince me that the filmmaker had control over her material. The best scene was the collision between Lila, the immovable object, and Laura, the unstoppable force, near the end. I considered Lila an immovable object because even though she perfectly knew her husband didn’t love her as much as he should, she still foolishly wanted to get married. Laura was an unstoppable force because she was too driven by her emotions and she was willing to fight for what she felt even if it meant throwing friendship in the fire. I wish more scenes as powerful as Lila and Lauren’s confrontation. The rest were just padding for an accident that never occurred.
Once Around (1991)
★★★ / ★★★★
Renata (Holly Hunter), despite being thirtysomething, still lived with her parents (Danny Aiello, Gena Rowlands) and she seemed to lack direction in life. The first scene of the film was Jan’s (Laura San Giacomo) wedding, Renata’s sister, which was happy on the outside but its purpose highlighted the fact that Renata was lonely, if not almost desperate to have someone she can call her lover. But her insecurities were seemingly thrown out the window when she met a successful salesman named Sam (Richard Dreyfuss). There was an obvious age difference between the couple but Renata decided to continue the relationship because Sam made her genuinely happy. But more problems ensued when Sam overstepped his boundaries within the close-knit family. What I loved about this picture was its focus involving the principle of “Once around, always around.” The scenes of Sam trying to wriggle his way into situations that didn’t concern him made me angry and uncomfortable because I really identified with the family. He was a social man who liked to joke around (dirty jokes especially) and sing songs but he wasn’t used to filtering his words and wasn’t aware that sometimes he could be very offensive to certain people. In a way, we all know people like him whether it be with our own families or group of friends. Or maybe it’s us but we just aren’t aware of it. I admired that Lasse Hallström, the director, didn’t frame the family as a group of eccentrics sickeningly common in movies of the 2000s. They were essentially a normal family but their worst were at the forefront when Sam was in the room with them. It was fascinating to observe the way the characters responded to each other because the reactions weren’t always predictable. When I thought a situation would end up being sad, it ended up being funny. When I thought a situation would end up funny, it would end up being bittersweet. Hallström had control over the material’s mood and I felt like each scene had a purpose with stakes that became increasingly higher. Best of all, “Once Around” was relatable. In my family gatherings, I like to observe people while I eat. Most of the time the in-laws keep a certain distance while the core family members are not afraid to make fools out of themselves. (Filipinos love to karaoke… most of the time while drunk.) But sometimes the in-laws lose a bit of control and everybody could feel a difference in atmosphere. That’s why I thought “Once Around” was very smart. It was able to pinpoint that familiar awkwardness and successfully built a story around it.
He’s Just Not That Into You (2009)
★★ / ★★★★
This ensemble comedy, directed by Ken Kwapis, tells the intersecting story of late twentysomethings to early thirtysomethings as they endure the challenges that come with their romantic interests. Ginnifer Goodwin seems to have the worst radar when it comes to whether or not guys are truly interested in her. One day, she meets Justin Long and believes that he’s romantically interested in her despite his just-friends-and-nothing-else inclinations toward her (talk about not learning from her mistakes). For me, that was the best part of this movie because Goodwin gave out this certain enthusiastic energy that made me want to root for her even though she might seem a bit desperate and awkward at times. I loved the scenes when she would literally wait by the phone for a call from a guy that she had dinner with only once. Her worries poured into her workplace as her co-workers (Jennifer Connelly, Jennifer Aniston–each having a story of her own) consoled her. My second favorite storyline was Aniston and Ben Affleck’s. The two are in love and living together but they’re not married because Affleck doesn’t believe in marriage. This bothers Aniston’s character, especially when the topic of marriage comes up (the conflict was amplified when she heard about her sister getting married), but she tries to conceal her emotions with all her might. However, during the scenes when she couldn’t handle it anymore, I felt a genuine sadness for her character and I wanted to know more about her. Unfortunately, her storyline did not get as much screen time. The love triangle between Connelly, Bradley Cooper (who happen to be married) and Scarlett Johansson, I thought, was the weakest link. Though I did feel for Connelly’s character because both of us like to fix or organize things when things start to feel out of control, her storyline felt like it did not fit the movie. It was much more depressing than the other two mentioned. Not to mention Johansson is doing her pouty thing again and having an affair. In a nutshell, that storyline left me disinterested. I thought that the first part of the film was much stronger than the second half. The former was genuinely funny, fast-paced and offered a handful of interesting questions about why men and women are the way they are. The latter is the complete antithesis. If the director got rid of Connelly’s storyline, elaborated more on Aniston’s, and injected more of Drew Barrymore’s conflict with dating and technology, we would have a superior picture. Instead, we got a mediocre film that somewhat felt like (or tried to be like) “Love Actually” but considerably less charming.