Directed By: Noam Murro
Starring: Dennis Quaid, Sarah Jessica Parker, Ellen Page, Thomas Haden Church, Ashton Holmes
The romantic comedy that’s not that funny and not that romantic. That’s not fair, it is funny and romantic just not in the conventional sense, maybe it’s a anti-romantic comedy. Whatever it is I like it.
The movie opens with Professor Lawrence Wetherhold, Dennis Quaid, double parking a twenty year old Saab. It’s the first day of the semester and he passes out name tags and attempts poorly to hide the fact that he’s not even going to bother to try to learn his student’s names. After class he runs into his adopted, a fact which he makes sure to point out, brother Chuck, Thomas Haden Church. Lawrence automatically assumes that Chuck is about to hit him up for money, which he is, and blows him off.
After this he gets a call from his editor informing him that his publisher is not even faintly interested in his new book. Before heading home he stops of at James his son’s, Ashton Holmes, dorm room and demonstrates that they are not getting along well. To top the day off he ends up hospitalized after falling from a fence after retrieving his suitcase from his Saab which is in the impound lot after being towed for being double parked. His doctor, Janet Hartigan, Sarah Jessica Parker, turns out to be a former student, a fact which he does not remember, who at the time had a little bit of a crush on him. The good doctor calls his daughter Vanessa, Ellen Page, and tries to convince her to come and see her father. Vanessa explains that she is studying for her SATs and does not have the time to come and see her father that night.
Within ten minutes Noam Murro and the writer Mark Jude Poirier have expertly set up the main characters. They are all archetypes in a sense. First off Lawrence, he’s a late middle aged Professor of English who’s not doing well with the fact that he’s gone about as far as he’s going to go. He’s grouchy, narcissistic, miserable and addicted to his routine. Chuck is what appears, at first at least, to be a prime example of a man-child. While he’s more socialized than his brother he’s just kind of drifting through life. Vanessa is the overachieving under socialized student. James the son is the least dysfunctional of the bunch, but this has only alienated him from his dad and sister. By using broad strokes Noam and Mark are able to efficiently setup the story with very little exposition. They sidestep the usual hazard of using stereotypes with expert casting and by slowly filling out the characters and letting them grow naturally.
I don’t think I’m giving anything away by revealing that Lawrence and Janet start seeing each other. This is a romantic comedy after all, but it kinda of turns all of the normal conventions on their head. The meet cute is not really all that cute. Lawrence and Janet don’t just fall into a perfect relationship they have to adjust and work at it and risk rejection and humiliation. The bump in the road that you know has to come in a romantic comedy is not some contrived Rube Goldberg plot device, but comes as a natural consequence of the characters and their actions. The side stories are treated with the same care. You never catch the characters doing something just so the plot can get from here to there. The movie follows the form of a romantic comedy. It is funny, but not knee slapping funny. The humor comes from the characters, not elaborate setups or from humiliating anybody. The romance is just as subdued. It is about two people falling in love, but it’s far from the love at first sight, flaming passion kind of romance typical of romantic comedies. It lurches around, has highs and lows, and is as fragile as an eggshell.
The writing is great. The acting is just as good. It’s not really possible to single anyone out, of course after saying that I’m going to mention that Ellen Page’s performance is particularly striking. Dennis Quaid’s performance is notable in his willingness to be so unsympathetic. You really don’t like him at the beginning of the movie and you’ve not really warmed up to him at the end, but it’s interesting to watch him transform into something that will at least pass for human.
The video is presented in wide screen format. It’s a sharp, clean transfer which you would expect from a new release. The color is good, a little undersaturated to match the tone of the film. The only defects I noticed were a little aliasing around the edges of back lit subjects and some striped objects get a little blurry but none of these ever rose to a level of being distracting and were no more than what you will usually find.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The surround sound use is subtle. The mix is good. All the dialog is clear and never overpowered by the score. The score is by Nuno Bettencourt and is excellent. As you would expect from a guitarist it’s mostly guitar with some really nice string work. It’s organic and complements the movie perfectly. There are subtitles in English, French and Spanish plus a subtitle track for the commentary.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
The DVD comes in the standard Amaray case with a cardboard slipcase. The artwork and layout is attractive if not inspired. There are some deleted scenes and bloopers included on the DVD along with a featurette of interviews with the actors and filmmakers that is worth watching. There is a commentary track with Noam Murro and Mark Jude Poirier the director and screenwriter. There are also the mandatory trailers and an unwelcome PSA at the beginning of the DVD. A commercial would be less irritating than a PSA.
I’m a sucker for standard romantic comedies anyway, so there’s a good chance I would have enjoyed this movie even if it was your standard run of the mill romantic comedy. It’s not. Like I mentioned earlier you could almost call it an anti-romantic comedy. It’s a good movie without analyzing it that deep but it’s also interesting in how it follows the form, but manges to twist the standard romantic comedy mold.
Overall (Not an Average) 8/10
The Movie 8/10
The Video 7/10
The Audio 7/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 7/10
Overall (Not an Average) 8/10