Hollywood and the rest of the filmmaking community seem to be really struggling with the romantic genre. There seems to be a total lack of idea of how to present this format in a relevant or original way. Tired, formulaic and uninteresting are words that can be used to describe the whole genre. It is the same story over and over involving two attractive people who have to overcome obstacles to be together. There have been some directors or screenwriters who have been able to overcome and make good films, but director Lone Scherfig (An Education) will not be added to that list yet. Her last film was the wonderful An Education and her latest does not build on that positive momentum.
It is your typical story of two young people who graduate from university in the late 1980s. Very serious, plain and poetry writing girl (Anne Hathaway – The Devil Wears Prada, Love & Other Drugs) has a secret crush on the rich but flighty boy (Jim Sturgess – 50 Dead Men Walking, Across the Universe). After a drunken celebratory night they stumble back to her flat in Edinburgh to do the dirty deed but don’t as she spends too long in the bathroom and he sobers up enough to realize she is not really his type of girl.
Despite this awkward start the two become lifelong friends with her struggling as a waitress in a Mexican restaurant dreaming of become a writer and he becoming a television presenter who parties a lot and flits from woman to woman. Both are not exactly the people they want to be. Finally after she turns her back on him due to his drug and alcohol problems. They run into each other a year later at a wedding and the friendship is rekindled. She thinks it might become more as she has just broken up with her long-term failed standup comedian boyfriend (Rafe Spall – Shaun of the Dead, A Good Year) but he tells her he is about to get married to a wonderful rich girl (Romola Garai – Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, Atonement).
Funnily enough his marriage doesn’t work out because his wife has been cheating on him. A mess he turns to old faithful, but she is a now a successful author who is living in Paris and in a relationship. He goes to visit her though once there he cannot stomach the fact that she is with another man (Sebastian Dupuis). She realizes that she cannot stomach being without him and just like that after many years as friends they are now lovers. But you know that it cannot last.
Nothing about it grabbed me and reeled me in. I did not really care about the characters and it wasn’t because of the actors. The script and direction fail miserably. Scherfig is under the mistaken impression that if she tells the story of the guy and girl by using the same date (July 15) every year that they know each other. Interesting, but after a few “years” I could have stood having a remote control which I could fast forward the story with. In other words, it could have stood with some skipping of years.
Any scenes that work in the film are due to the talent and likeability of Hathaway and Sturgess. They are cute and give engaging performances. Even though Hathaway does not have a complete grasp of her English accent, we forgive her. Hathaway glows (as usual) on screen and even though his character is a cad, we are sympathetic to Sturgess.
I was frustrated throughout because I believe that Scherfig has oodles of talent. She just mishandled this film. Obviously loved the novel it was based on and the two lead characters, but does not succeed in making us enjoy them as much as she does. Well-intention as it is it is still a failure. Deep down there was a good story there and a clever way to tell it. Scherfig just doesn’t find it. Can happen to the best of us.