DEFINITELY, MAYBE (2008)

Programming note: I’m swamped this month balancing NaNoWriMo and work and life, so the few posts I’ll eke out will be brief and will often lean on others.

(peacock/VOD) DEFINITELY, MAYBE is one of my favorite modern rom-coms, and I was elated to see that Caroline Siede featured it in her fantastic WHEN ROMANCE MET COMEDY series (despite the fact that it took me several months to finally read it):

“Definitely, Maybe isn’t a “soulmate rom-com” about how there’s one perfect person for everyone. Instead, it looks at the realistic ways in which timing, circumstance, and miscommunication can impact and upend relationships. And it finds hope in the fact that good things can still come out of a romance that’s not meant to last. Definitely, Maybe is essentially the cinematic equivalent of the adage that people come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime—and that there’s value in all three.”

https://www.avclub.com/ryan-reynolds-traded-snark-for-sincerity-in-an-underrat-1847432954

I’M YOUR MAN (2021)

(Cinemas) Temporarily pausing the horror posts, because, well, because this was the second part of a self-inflicted double-feature with LAMB, and I loved it.

I’M YOUR MAN is a high-concept romantic drama from actor/director/writer Maria Schrader (perhaps best known in the U.S. for the Netflix series UNORTHODOX, but I know best for portraying Jaguar in the German historical docudrama AIMEE & JAGUAR), that features Dan Stevens as an ideal robotic romantic companion to middle-aged academic Alma (Maren Eggert). The film leans on a lot of rom-com tropes, notably those of a ‘perfect’ man who can fix one woman’s self-made woes, but then intentionally subverts them. (I’m a sucker for this sort of thing. See also: TIMER (2009))The end result is a very smart look at not just what folks want from partners, but how their romantic histories inform each other.

The trailer leans in a bit too much on the shock that Dan Stevens can actually speak German — I’ve forgotten almost all of the German I learned in college, so I can’t attest to whether his approach works, although I imagine the fact that he’s a robot works in his favor — but I applaud his effort.

Lastly, I’d like to note: while I do often enjoy watching empty rom-com trifles via Lifetime or Hallmark — I won’t deny it — I’M YOUR MAN is funny, sensitive, and substantial. If you have a heart, the closing will stick with you.

THE BROKEN HEARTS GALLERY (2020)

(Starz/VOD) A funny and surprisingly sweet quarter-century crisis film/rom-com that’s is well-calibrated for minds hungry for loads of smart quips.

Lucy (Geraldine Viswanathan, BLOCKERS, MIRACLE WORKERS), a mid-20s pack rat with the habit of hanging onto keepsakes of her exes, is working towards her dream job as a gallery owner with her attractive and responsible boyfriend Max (Utkarsh Ambudkar, PITCH PERFECT) at a NYC museum run by her idol Eva Woolf (Bernadette Peters, who needs no introduction).

Within the span of one night, she loses both Max and her job and, in a drunk/depressed stupor, gets into what she thinks is her Lyft, but it’s just one dude who forgot to lock his passenger side door. The dude, Nick, takes pity on her and drives her home, and they start orbiting around each other. Lucy discovers that he’s trying to rehab an old YMCA into a hotel, and she takes the opportunity to set up a gallery inspired by her attempts to let go of her exes’ knickknacks, hence the title of the film.

This is writer/director Natalie Krinsky’s debut film, but she’s been writing for TV — including a long run on GOSSIP GIRL — for quite some time, and it shows. The heart of the film is the bluntly smart and rapid comedic patter of the dialogue, as opposed to flashy visuals or convoluted set pieces — although he film’s lighting is vibrantly under-lit, a rarity in rom-coms — and Krinsky couldn’t have hoped for a better lead for her script than Viswanathan. While Viswanathan has always stood out in every work she’s been involved in, her extremely expressive face and ability to turn on a dime pulls off a character that could come across as a bit too intense or creepy.

Viswanathan doesn’t have to solely carry the film on her shoulders either, as the supporting cast is ridiculously talented and fill out the film’s flavor: Lucy’s extremely supportive, but gloriously unique, roommates are HAMILTON’s Phillipa Soo (not a role I expected to see her in) and Molly Gordon (TNT’s ANIMAL KINGDOM and Hulu’s RAMY), and Arturo Castro (BROAD CITY, NARCOS) has a great rapport with Lucy as Nick’s friend. Even Nathan Dales (LETTERKENNY) pops up in a slightly gimmicky role!

While the breathless jokes, earnestness, and conventional story beats may turn some folks off, I couldn’t help but embrace it. In a genre full of paint-by-numbers comfort food mediocrity, it’s nice to see a rom-com add some verve and push the boundaries a bit, while remaining supremely entertaining.

PILLOW TALK (1959)

(VOD) I’ll always love the use of a party line as a complicating device, regardless of how foreign the concept may be nowadays, so of course I was pre-disposed to enjoy this Hudson/Day tête-à-tête. PILLOW TALK is also notable for spending so much time with the primary characters in ‘splintered’ and ‘internal’ spaces, and it has some interesting visual framing and reframing work. A lot of it hasn’t aged well, especially the last 15 minutes — hell, it was almost certainly considered problematic even in 1959 — but at its best, it’s a surprisingly experimental and satisfying rom-com.

Full disclosure: I once wrote an entire horror radio play around the use of a party line.