May 28, 2011

The Romantics (2010)

Dianna Agron, Rebecca Lawrence, and Malin Ackerman play bridesmaids to Anna Paquin's bride in The Romantics.

The Romantics is one of those films I would watch out of curiosity, but others would dismiss without a second thought. In this indie drama, a group of friends in their late twenties reunite for a wedding that involves two of their own. The cast, led by Katie Holmes, is adamantly B-list -- Josh Duhamel as the groom, Anna Paquin as the bride Lila, Malin Ackerman and Adam Brody as their friends, "Glee"’s Dianna Agron as Paquin’s little sister, and a hilariously miscast and unnecessary Elijah Wood as her older brother.

Katie Holmes as protagonist Laura.

From the Futura-font credit sequence to the shaky, often handheld lensing and cool grey tones (not to mention the tinkly, indie-posturing soundtrack), the film may seem self-conscious, but it also betrays a thoughtfulness you wouldn't expect from such a generic story. The film is anchored, also surprisingly, by Katie Holmes' performance as Laura, a modestly successful writer who is forced to be maid of honor to Lila, the frenemy who stole her boyfriend Tom in university. Still harboring a passion for this man, Holmes projects a quiet, all-too relatable anguish at not being the chosen one. And later, when Tom confesses that he chose Lila over her because he found that his extreme compatibility with Laura left him with too much to live up to, she showers him with indignant exasperation. Yet, even their arguing reveals how they could be each other's equal -- not the most intelligent or interesting people, but thoughtful and on each other's level. In their best scenes together, Holmes and Duhamel give as good as they get, shooting brutal lines at each other with precision.

Holmes may be limited in range, but her strength as an actress is her resolute averageness. This ordinariness served her well on "Dawson’s Creek", an even in subsequent roles, such as the town slut in the thriller The Gift, her small-town-level charms were a large part of her appeal. As Laura, she is not so beautiful and put-together that you can't imagine a man not choosing her. She looks frazzled, and her hair is an afterthought. It’s nice to know that despite being whisked away to live a life of what appears to be a trophy wife, Holmes is still very capable of portraying a normal woman.

                                                        Anna Paquin's Lila, an evil witch.

In what makes for the film's most maddening quality, the other characters are not so well etched. There is an odd feeling of disconnect you get when watching the film, perhaps because the actors often lack rapport with one another. As a man who cannot handle the pressure of being with his intellectual and emotional equal, Duhamel's character an unusually illuminating conflicted boyfriend role. Yet, while we hear why he chose Lila (richer, less complicated, more confident, etc.), the two fail to give any sense of affection for one another. Meanwhile, Paquin's bitch bride act is razor sharp, but Holmes and Paquin impart no sense of history -- surely at some point their friendship was defined by something other than this man?

The third surprise comes in the form of Dianna Agron, who plays Lila's baby sister, Minnow. Due to the unbelievably sloppy storytelling of "Glee", her acting on the show has only two modes: scheming bitch and wounded girl who knows that high school will be the high point of her life. While she can't survive the erratic character arcs, in her best scenes on the show, she imparts a sense of gravity that distinguishes her (if only momentarily) from all the other blandly pretty blonde actresses.

Minnow (Dianna Agron) tries on her sister's wedding dress.

That grave quality presents itself in The Romantics as well. In a heartbreaking scene, she sits on her sister's bed and asks quietly, "Does he make you feel beautiful? Does he make you feel safe? Does he make you feel special?" An innocent and an idealist, she represents everything her sister is not. Her scenes are brief, but she imbues them with such wistful longing, it's a shame to see those emotions fade as the film cedes space to other characters that, ultimately, seem to serve no purpose.

The Romantics

According to the film's IMDb page, The Romantics only played in US theaters for three weeks, and earned an incredibly paltry $103,280 during its theatrical run. With its recognizable cast and small-scale storytelling, however, perhaps it's much better suited to TV or DVD viewings. I wouldn't go so far as to say it's worth seeing, but if you do, you might find yourself intrigued by its very modest charms.

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