Destination Wedding 2018 ****

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In some alternative universe, instead of costumed figures punching each other in pursuit of the financial reward some wordless lowest common denomenator, we’d be looking at a cinema bursting with thrillers, dramas and rom-coms; perhaps in that world, Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder would be the Hepburn and Tracy of our day. Alas, Destination Wedding, a smart two hander from writer/director Victor Levin, barely saw the inside of cinemas when it finally trickled out, but streaming may offer some salvation; with big stars giving fun performances, it’s exactly the kind of quality indie that used to pack them in. Reeves play Frank and Ryder plays Lindsay, two malcontents who sit at the back of a Paso Robles wedding exchanging snide comments and gradually striking up an attraction in their misanthropy. Sex follows, and buyers remorse hangs heavy, and it’s clear this isn’t going to run Before Sunrise smooth. But Reeves and Ryder are terrific performers, and they do a great job in bringing two difficult people to life. Rom-coms are rare like like hen’s teeth; this one is sharp and acerbic, and should be treasured.

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Long Shot 2019 ***

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When Seth Rogen first appeared in a puff of dubious smoke, he offered a new type of male lead for the 2010’s. A slob, a stoner, but also a decent guy and a buddy, someone to pal around with, Rogen’s charms worked well in Knocked Up, Pineapple Express and Bad Neighbours, but less so when squeezed into vehicles like The Green Hornet. Long Shot is a romantic comedy set in the world of politics, re-uniting Rogen with director Jonathan Levine, who worked with him on 50/50. The role of Fred Flarsky, a shambolic political activist/journalist who ends up writing speeches for Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron) suits Rogen fine, but more problematic elements let Long Shot down.

Probably the biggest issue here is that 2019’s political landscape is so extreme that fiction can hardly keep up; a throwaway line about ‘gay marriage causing earthquakes’ is about as close at Long Shot gets to addressing Donald Trump’s tenure. Instead, there’s a very weak joke about the president (Bob Odenkirk) wanting to give up the White House to re-ignite his acting career; such quaint vanities are not the ones an audience will likely recognise as current. As Fred and Charlotte navigate various foreign backdrops and put aside their differences to fall in love, there’s little satire or commentary, just some fairly goofy rom-com antics. Things liven up when corporate forces attempt to blackmail Charlotte into dumping Fred, and a positive message about truth just about gets out. But the equation of Fred’s enthusiasm for self-stimulation with the hidden mistresses of US presidents feels like a stretch, and repeated use of Roxette’s It Must Have Been Love from Pretty Woman suggests a bald attempt to push the audience’s buttons by evoking ancient glories in the rom-com genre.

Worse still, a sequence in which Charlotte has to defuse a potentially life-threatening hostage situation while ‘accidentally’ under the influence of molly is exactly the kind of tired, contrived wackiness that Rogen’s blunt approach once seemed to be the perfect antidote to. Two likable stars keep Long Shot watchable, but it’s a shame the script goes low when it should be soaring high.

Always Be My Maybe 2019 ****

It’s not a matter for debate; Netflix have brought back the rom-com, even if it’s a slightly different beast on streaming. Always Be My Maybe is pretty much everything that’s required from the genre; two personable leads in Ali Wong and Randall Park, who co-wrote the screenplay with Michael Golamco, plus a well-caught San Francisco vibe, plus a scene-hogging cameo from Keanu Reeves that rocks the film for a couple of extended scenes. Always Be My Maybe is the story of two kids who grow into adults without ever properly evaluating their bond; even when they’re going out with other people, Sasha and Marcus are more able to be themselves when they’re together, and Nahnatchka Khan’s film makes the most of the unrequited confusion. There’s plenty of funny lines including ‘Famous people are different; I once saw Glenn Close eat a pineapple sandwich…’ and an ingenious scene making fun of the fancy food that hipsters eat. Seeing normal people doing relatable things in increasingly rare in cinema; Netflix’s streaming service is well served by appealingly light fare such as Always Be My Maybe.

https://www.netflix.com/gb/title/80202874?source=35

Love Type D 2019 ****

‘Being unlucky in love is genetic’ runs the tag-line for Love Type D, a classy film from writer/director Sasha Collington. Her anti-rom-com tells the story of Frankie (Mauve Dermody), a young woman who is unlucky in love, or so she thinks. But an encounter with Dr Elsa Blomgren (Tovah Feldshuh) suggests otherwise; the tv specialist suggests that whether you are dumped or the dumper is a matter of genetic make-up, and with this fresh info, Frankie manages to convince the others who have been regularly dumped within her office to rise up and shake off the stigma of their genetic lottery by contacting their exes and dumping them en masse. Love Type D has the kind of simple high-concept that would suit a platform like Netflix; while not exactly probable, the light fantasy of the idea is enough to see the film through, with a few genuine laughs and none of the cringe-factor associated with low-budget rom-coms. By keeping her targets specific, and refusing to give into lazy genre clichés, Collington marks herself out as a talent to watch here.

Kissing Jessica Stein 2001 ***

 

 

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Writer by the lead actresses Heather Juergensen and Jennifer Westfeldt, Kissing Jessica Stein is a bright, low-budget NYC set rom-com with a lesbian slant. Jessica Stein (Westfeldt) is a career-driven girl who finds herself unexpectedly in love with Helen Cooper (Juergensen); having never imagined herself as a lesbian, Jessica struggles with the disapproval of her Jewish family, and her own expectation that she needs a man in her life. Westfelt has since gone on to success as an actress (in 24) and writer (Friends with Kids), but it’s a shame that neither performer has returned to this kind of indie fare. Although some have found the ending a cop-out, Kissing Jessica Stein is more about coming out of your shell and challenging stereotypes rather than dividing matters along sexual battle-lines; both girl shine in this lightweight but effective comedy.