by RISHI AGRAWAL
Poor Gray. Her fiancée Grady dies very shortly before the wedding under mysterious circumstances. Of course, these circumstances are not mysterious to the characters or even in dispute. They are, however, mysterious to the audience. Gray (Jennifer Garner) moves in with some people who have some kind of relationship to Grady or Gray or someone. In any case, the characters seem to know each other. The perplexing exercise of writing a plot summary for this movie highlights one the major flaws: there are no details in the movie, just situations.
I am not a big fan of sloppy and obvious exposition in films. But if I had to choose between bad exposition and a complete lack of exposition, then I would choose the former. Perhaps I am being too demanding, but I don’t think the questions I want answered are irrelevant. I would like to know who these characters are. I would like to know how they know each other. I would kind of like to know how they know the deceased. Susannah Grant is best known as a screenwriter (Ever After, Erin Brockovich), and makes her directorial debut here. A writer, of all people, should know the importance of details. Perhaps she thinks these details are irrelevant or that the audience doesn’t care. However, the effect of leaving certain details out is that the movie seems unnecessarily vague. We get confused when we have no business being confused.
In all fairness to Grant, though we do not have biographical details of the characters, we do get a decent sense of the characters’ personalities through their words and actions. Sam (Kevin Smith) is obsessed with food, tells silly jokes and likes to memorize quotes off Celestial Seasonings boxes. Dennis (Sam Jaeger) has problems finding the right woman and likes nature. Fritz (Timothy Olyphant) is brash and cynical. Still, knowing a little bit about the history of these characters would help sharpen our focus.
On the surface, the movie wants to be a romantic comedy in the wake of a tragic event. This is a familiar theme, but it is not necessarily a bad one. The problem is, however, there is no connection between the characters that eventually become romantically involved. All we see are scenes of kissing and rolling around in bed, but other than a physical attraction, we have no idea why the characters even care for each other. A movie that is occasionally romantic and occasionally comedic is not necessarily a romantic comedy. In a good romantic comedy, the funny moments provide bonding experiences for the characters that force them into situations that make the romance believable. Unfortunately, the comedy and romance in this movie are almost completely unconnected.
Of course, Grady is still grieving for her lost fiancee, so we also have sad moments in the film. At a couple of points, Grant does attempt to mix the sadness with humor (and even succeeds once or twice), but for the most part, the sadness is yet another discrete element. There is an entire subplot to this film, in which Gray finds out disturbing secrets from Grady’s past, which only seems cursorily related to the main plot.
While watching this movie, I could just picture Grant sitting in front of control board, with buttons labeled “sad” and “romantic” and “funny.” In an almost robotic fashion, she pushes these buttons one at a time, but never simultaneously. And Grant generally succeeds in evoking the emotions she is trying to conjure, but it’s all so simplistic and forced. And, unfortunately for the film, the button that is labeled “poignant” seems to be broken.