Tag Archives: romantic movies

Playing It Cool

I’ve been on a bit of a kick lately to see what Chris Evans does when he’s not Captain America – particularly since he’s super not Captain America anymore. I think I only really know him from Snowpiercer, which is one of the best movies ever made, so it’s a solid credit, I’ll give him that. But it seems our most civic-minded super hero is super selective when it comes to the roles he takes, which doesn’t necessarily shake out to him choosing only the best. Since Snowpiercer (2013), he’s only been in three non-Marvel films. So yeah, it makes sense that you might want to retreat from that universe, for your own sanity and such (although caveat: his buddy Falcon is along for the ride). 2014 saw the release of both this film, and Before We Go and then there was 2017’s Gifted, which I never saw because Matt called Evans’ performance ‘bland’ and the film “sentimental.’ So when he’s not chasing down bad guys, he’s either drawn to the syrupy stuff, or he’s stuck with it. I know in recent months, as he did the Endgame press tour, he mentioned wanting/needing time off. As the only bachelor Avenger, he was feeling lonely, and wanting to devote time to finding love and starting a family. Which doesn’t mean he’ll be absent from the big screen. At least not for a while. He’s slated to appear in Rian Johnson’s Knives Out later this year, The Red Sea Diving Resort, also intended for release later this year, a limited TV series opposite Michelle Dockery called Defending Jacob, a starring role in Antoine Fuqua’s Infinite next year, and eventually appearing in a film as the only living descendant of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. And then: love and babies!

For now: Playing It Cool.

We only know him as “Me,” a screenwriter recently commissioned to write a rom-com. Only problem: he’s never been in love, doesn’t really believe in it. So he and his best friend, also a writer, Scott (Topher Grace) hit the town for “research” which is when it hits him: love. Or, you know, infatuation. With a woman who seems entirely to good to be true, and she is, because she’s already engaged. To someone else, obviously.

But the memory of having met The Perfect Woman haunts him, and blocks him creatively, so instead of writing, he investigates, telling himself he only wants to know her name. ‘Her’ as we know her (Michelle Monaghan), remains elusive, but along the way his inner writer lets loose and he tells a lot of stories, testing himself out as the leading man to see if any of them feel plausible. When he finally finds Her, they try being “just friends,” which means he spends an uncomfortable amount of time begging for sex, despite her still being attached. But he cares about Her, y’all! Does that make it better or worse?

This rom-com swears off all the rom-com tropes. But can it really resist? Actually, some of the language is already quite dated, and those things tend to niggle at me. Like, overt and dirty sexism for no reason. Not that there IS a reason. You know what I mean. But aside from that, what we need from rom-coms is a small dose of sweetness, a big dose of laughs, and just enough wink-wink, we’re-in-on-the-joke to make it all go down smoothly, like a milkshake. You know it’s bad for you, it’s entirely too sweet, but sometimes, you just can’t resist. Playing It Cool wants to be a milkshake but it’s not even a rootbeer float. It’s more like that flat gingerale your mother used to make you for a sore tummy. Evans and Monaghan are effortless together, but the script is totally devoid of character. It’s cool to reject the usual cliches, it’s even welcome, but you have to replace them with something. That’s where the writing part of writing a script comes in. Playing It Cool plays it a little too cool.

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Five Feet Apart

Stella (Haley Lu Richardson) and Poe (Moises Arias) are friends, roommates and teenagers who’ve known each other since they were kids. They’ve been through a lot together and their bond is undeniable. When a third wheel, Will (Cole Sprouse), moves into the building, things begin to change.

Also worth noting: Stella, Poe, and Will are all CF patients, and the building in which they live is of course a hospital. They’re all living in the same ward but because of their disease, they aren’t allowed to come any closer to each other than 6 feet. Which puts a real damper on the budding romance between Stella and Will. Of course , the looming specter of their mortality is also boner-softening, I’d imagine.

Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a fatal genetic disease for which there is no cure. It affects mostly the digestive system and the lungs. It’s the progressive lung damage from chronic infection that usually gets them in the end. Average life expectancy is almost but not quite middle age.

So here is another entry in the dead or dying teenager trope, which is weirdly having a moment. Or maybe it’s always having a moment. Teenagers like to really heighten the stakes. These teenagers know their limits and why they exist, not that it makes it any easier to follow them. They’re not trying to endanger their lives, but they are trying to live them. A warrior nurse named Barb (Kimberly Hébert Gregory) will do everything she can to keep them going, and sometimes that pits her against them. I thought constantly about how hard that must be for her. She’s the one caring for them day in and day out, likely for years, and definitely for weeks and months at a time. She has more contact with them than any friends or family. But it’s not her job to match-make, or to chaperone dates. It’s to keep them alive another day.

CF patients may find it hard to fall in love. Their time outside hospitals is limited. Their time on earth is limited. But love between CF patients can’t happen at all because they must never, ever touch. Teenagers may find forbidden love irresistible, but this is a whole other level.

Always Be My Maybe

Sasha Tran is a famous chef opening a new restaurant in her hometown, San Francisco. Her fiance has just fled to India for 6 months, during which time they’re going to “see other people.” Those other people may or may not include Marcus, Sasha’s childhood best friend, with whom she lost touch after an ill-conceived grief-fuck in the backseat of his car. I mean definitely not. Their brief coupling was so awkward, and then she went off and did big things and he stayed behind to work in the family business after his mom died. It’ll never work. Never.

Sasha (Ali Wong) and Marcus (Randall Park) have a lot of love between them, but love is not enough. Their lives have diverged more than just geographically. Plus, it’s hard to take a dip in the hot springs of love when you’ve been lollygagging in the fallow fields of friendship all these years. Can they possibly overcome?

I mean, yes. Of course they can. This is a goddamned rom-com people. It’s not rocket science. There’s no will they or won’t they, there’s just how much longer until they do. And with this movie, you kinda hope it’ll be a while because you’re just enjoying the ride so much. Or at least I was, and improbably, I believe Sean was too. So that’s two people who hate romcoms (Sean because he literally has no emotions and myself because I’ve literally had eyeball surgery after bursting a network of vessels when I rolled them too much) who have made an exception for this one.

Always Be My Maybe is funny, and not just because the title is a pessimistic twist on a 1990s Mariah Carey song. Ali Wong is of course a comedy genius, and she plays very well against Randall Park, who I’ve always thought of as more of a dry comedian, but he’s got a bigger bag of tricks than I ever knew, including a musical side AND a violent side – and while I love them both, by god, I loved them even more when combined (stay through the credits).

This movie has absolutely nothing new to add in the romance department but you’ll be so busy being taken by surprise by random lines funny enough to stay with you for weeks you won’t even care. The cast is charmingly quirky and features a cameo (in fact, a meaty little part) that will pretty much make your year. Always Be My Maybe is streaming on Netflix right now, and it’s not a maybe, it’s a full-on yes.

The Perfect Date

Like 90% of teen movies, the general conceit is that the protagonist is reflecting upon his short life via the old college application essay.

Brooks Rattigan (the dreamy Noah Centineo) hopes to be Harvard bound, but his guidance counselor counsels him that he’s really quite bland and uninteresting, so he’s got to “find himself” in order to inject zing and zeal into his application.

A chance opportunity to be paid to escort the lovely if anti-social Celia (Laura Marano) to her high school formal births two very important plot points: Brooks falls for the MV5BZTJkZDZjYTMtNTNiYy00MGFlLWIzZmUtZjEzM2ZlMDY4NTI1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjg2NjQwMDQ@._V1_SY1000_SX1500_AL_terminally popular and super-rich Shelby (Camila Mendes), and he gets an idea for a business opportunity. He’s going to need a lot of money to pay for Harvard (and to woo Celia), so why not rent himself as a date for hire? It worked well enough the first time, with Shelby, so why not with other girls? He recruits best friend Murph (Odiseas Georgiadis) to set up a dating app, one where girls can choose what date he’ll take them on, what outfit he’ll wear, what topics he’ll discuss, even what personality he’ll embody.

Nothing could go wrong, right?

Every single thing that happens is boldly predictable and unimaginative. But you didn’t come innovative story-telling or artistic film making. You came to lose yourself in the deep chocolate pools of Noah Centineo’s soulful eyes. Which is a good thing because Noah Centineo has not one but two eyes, and the movie has otherwize a grand total of 0 reasons to watch. The characters are extremely rough drafts of real people and they have no motivation, no arc, nothing.

You know those cardboard cutouts of movie stars that used to dot your local Blockbuster? Well you could use those life-sized cardboard cutouts to reenact this movie and it would be fairly indistinguishable. I don’t think the quality would suffer at all. But then you’d miss out on Noah Centineo’s wavy hair, and the crinkles around his eyes when he smiles. Of course, if you are not a 12 year old girl, you may find yourself impervious to his Millennial charms, and therefore you should stay the heck away from this movie because it just isn’t any good.

Isn’t It Romantic

Natalie (Rebel Wilson) is no fan of the rom-com. She thinks romantic movies are not for her – perhaps love itself is not for her. She feels invisible most of the time. She’s timid at work. She doesn’t think that anything magical will ever touch her life.

And when she gets mugged on the way home from work one evening, it seems like an affirmation of all of the above – except when she wakes up, the bump on her head has her living in an alternate universe that resembles very closely the rom-coms that she so spurns. The rules and the irony are simple: she’s got to make someone fall in love with her to escape this fate, and suddenly the hunky billionaire who  never noticed her before is all over her.

The movie rolls its eyes at all the usual romance cliches, but then indulges in them in a riot of colour and open-armed enthusiasm, as if mocking the tropes gives permission to MV5BMjI4Mjg3OTk0Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTM3MzEzNzM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1485,1000_AL_be unabashedly embrace them. But whatever, it’s fun, or fun enough. Rebel Wilson makes it work just by virtue of her own irrepressible personality. Larger than life, she somehow sells both sides of Natalie’s persona, the wallflower and the cheeky peony she becomes. Reteamed with Adam Devine, her cocky love interest from Pitch Perfect, the two have an easy chemistry that’s fun to sing along with – and believe me, this movie has more sing-along opportunities than most. You’ve really got to be on board with the vibrant cheese in order to enjoy this movie. It pretends to be cynical but it’s really not. If your sense of Valentine’s is at all gothic or ironic, move on. Love is in the air, in a pretty conventional way. Isn’t It Romantic is a piece of fluff that will soon be forgotten in the rom-com canon, but it’s light and airy and a fairly entertaining 90 minutes. More or less.

Forever My Girl

It’s the best day ever: not many people can say their wedding day coincides with their first hit single hitting the radio, but Liam is just that lucky, and Josie is his beautiful bride. Almost the whole of their small Louisiana town has shown up to see these pretty young things get married – all but one very important person: the groom. Josie is left at the altar because Liam’s star is shooting upward, and I guess marrying your high school sweetheart just doesn’t jibe with his country heartthrob image.

MV5BNTY1N2I5MjEtZDNkZS00OTgxLWFhM2MtNTM0NGY0MzBmNjRhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDg2MjUxNjM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1497,1000_AL_Cut to: 10 years later, a mutual friend dies, and Liam, a mega star, leaves his world tour to go back to that small town, which he’s never really escaped. And wouldn’t you know it – Josie is the first person he runs into. Well, Josie and her kid.

Like all country music, lots of the sound track is incredibly on the nose. But there’s lots of it, so if obvious country music is your jam (and let’s be honest – is there any other kind?), then you might be in hog heaven. Or at least in pig purgatory.

Alex Roe is definitely a guy who can play a country singer – you know, a multi-millionaire who still wears a beat up ball cap and a pair of work boots even though the feet inside them are manicured, to manipulate you into thinking he’s a working guy with a broken heart, just like you, when really his stubble is carefully curated by half a dozen stylists and his heart doesn’t even get involved between the groupies and the blow. But his lyrics are all about pick up trucks and the love of his country. He strictly drives Mercedes of course,  and his flags are just accessories he trots out for music videos.

But Liam? Oh, Liam’s good people. I mean, yes, he abandoned the love of his life on their wedding day and then didn’t return her call for eight years, but he was young! And he wrote songs about it! Jessica Rothe plays the jilted girlfriend, and she’s as wallflowery as the character. The kid, however, is a bright spot. Precocious children usually drive me bananas, but Abby Ryder Fortson pulled it off. Too bad the grown-ups weren’t half as charming.

The Holiday Calendar

In the month leading up Christmas, Abby dons an elf suit to take pictures of kids sitting on Santa’s lap. It’s not exactly the kind of photography work she’d imagined for herself, but every time her parents ask if she’s ready to come work for the family law firm, she defers. Besides the humiliating elf costume, 3 key things happen to Abby just as the holiday season kicks off:

  1. Her best friend Josh returns from his globe-trotting adventures.
  2. Her grandfather gives her an antique advent calendar, an inheritance from her recently deceased grandmother.
  3. She meets Ty, a cute new guy and potential love interest.

To be honest, Abby (Kat Graham) and Josh (Quincy Brown) are adorable together and have great chemistry, so you almost root for them to hook up, though the writers have MV5BZTE0MzQ4MmEtMjJiYi00YmE3LWIyMjEtMTg5YThkYWY0ZDg3XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyOTA5NzQ0MDQ@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,937_AL_other ideas. Let’s respect their friendship! Plus, the antique advent calendar from Gramps (Ron Cephas Jones, the dead dad from This Is Us – no, not that one, the other one!) may or may not be predicting the future with the little trinkets it presents to her each day. They’re adding up to a romance with Ty (Ethan Peck), the handsome single dad doctor who plans great dates and works with the homeless. That plus the magic of the holiday season makes for a pretty compelling case.

If you’re surprised at the lack of sarcasm in my tone, well, so am I. I’ve never met a Netflix or Hallmark holiday movie I didn’t hate on sight, so I wasn’t prepared to find this one kind of charming. Graham is a glowing, sweet as pie reason for this – she and Brown lead a surprisingly solid cast. They elevate the material beyond the normal Christmas cheese. And I liked that the romance didn’t start improbably from a negative place – finally a boyfriend who isn’t a jerk! Which is fortunate because we get to know Abby enough to know she has a good head on her shoulders and a lot of support from family friends – not the kind of woman silly enough to confuse condescension for caring.

Abby’s family and friends are exactly the kind of people you won’t mind sharing part of your holiday season with. Glass of wine and cozy socks optional but recommended.