A Lot Like Love: A Lot Like Other Romantic Comedies
film review by matthew webber
Here we go again. In A Lot Like Love, Ashton Kutcher stars in seemingly his 17th film of the year, opposite Amanda Peet, who, at least in the first act, plays the same libidinous-shrew role in which she always gets typecast. It’s another Hollywood movie allegedly both romantic and comedic, a picture whose now-ness precludes its becoming timeless.
Yet, with its seven-year plot span and a distance more insurmountable than the usual rom-com fare, A Lot Like Love aims to be a lot like real life – or at least a lot like When Harry Met Sally.
Instead of being separated by the standard getting-to-know-you jitters or the typical they’re-with-the-wrong-person delays, Kutcher’s Oliver and Peet’s Emily are forced apart by quarter-life circumstances. When they meet, improbably, hooking up in an airplane bathroom before ever speaking to each other, any relationship seems doomed before it can begin. The punky Emily is kind of seeing this guitar player, and the doofy Ollie wants to get his “ducks in a line” before settling down with anyone. They are living in and traveling to different places, and Emily won’t give him her phone number. Plus, she’s punky, he’s doofy, and they argue whether the phrase is “ducks in a line” or “ducks in a row” – for just one example of the see-how-they’re-falling-for-each-other! chitchat with which they’re saddled.
Even though their chemistry is electric, every time they meet – three years later, another two years later, one year, six months – something else is flat: different cities, other lovers, Ollie’s Internet diaper-selling service. Yet, recalling that spark and the goofy faces they make at each other while sticking straws in their noses et al – for just one example of the isn’t-it-obvious-they-should-be-together! piffle – they continue to pine for The One Who Hasn’t Gotten Totally Away Yet.
Finally – and I’m not giving anything away here you can’t tell by the movie poster – they end up together. Of course. It’s a contemporary romantic comedy, not Annie Hall.
But Ollie and Emily aren’t even Harry and Sally. For one, their getting it on immediately removes all sexual suspense from everything that follows. Two, with that gratification prematurely consummated and their satisfied future unmistakably guaranteed (the entire film is a flashback, after all), one can’t help but wish they would hurry up and commit to each other already. Three, whereas Harry and Sally used cleverly crafted conversation as foreplay, Ollie and Emily woo each other with the supposedly realistic speech of broken hearts, regrets, and what-ifs – words that resonate if you’ve lived them but can’t quite transcend life to become art.
Yet, perhaps because I’m someone who sometimes is guilty of pining, someone for whom circumstances have made relationships fail, I found myself caring about and rooting for these lovers: as mismatched, star-crossed, etc. as they are. It might be a credit to Peet and Kutcher as actors, with Emily becoming warmer and more likable as she ages (like many real-life people), and Ollie, the broad-shouldered, big-hearted lout, becoming as inexplicably tolerable, if not himself likable, as the story moves from the past to the present.
The obstacles in A Lot Like Love are a lot more like real life than in most romantic comedies. The manner in which the lovers overcome them, however, is typical, fantastical Hollywood. The movie is something you’ve never seen before, yet it’s something you know all too well to be surprised. There’s little to love here, but at least there’s a little, also, to like.
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