Friday, February 14, 2014
I first saw writer/director Shana Feste in 2009 at the Sundance Film Festival premiering her first feature, The Greatest, and was immediately impressed by her. Right out of the gate, at a relatively young age, she was able to capture love, and to an even greater extent the loss of love, in a very honest and heartfelt way, largely helped by a tremendous cast including Pierce Brosnan, Susan Sarandon, and newcomer Carey Mulligan. If you're up for a very emotional tearjerker, I highly recommend you track that little seen film down. In 2010 Feste followed up with the critically panned Country Strong, which in my opinion wasn't nearly as strong as her debut, but also wasn't nearly as bad as other critics would have you believe. And now, four years later, she delivers yet another film about true love, which answers the question, how many cliches can you pack into one romance flick? The answer is in the title. Seemingly endless.
In many ways this, her weakest film to date by far, was an effort to get through. Cliche #1: An impossibly beautiful, lovely, smart and personable high school senior (Gabriella Wilde) manages to graduate from high school without having a single friend or boyfriend. For real? You see, she's been totally into studying to get into a good college so she can get into a good medical school like her dad. Plus, her brother recently died, so the family has been in mourning. Woe is them. Cliche #2: An extremely handsome and yet oh so tender high school boy from the wrong side of the tracks has been crushing on her for ages, but just could never bring himself to approach her. He's the strong silent type, you see. Cliche #3: They fall madly in love upon first speaking to each other. This is true and endless love, of course, and has nothing to do with the fact that they're both, like, totally hot. (Note: this makes twice in two days I've had to endure this vomit inducing madness. It's called lust, people! It passes, either when you 'hit the wall' or when you find someone new.) Cliche # 4: Her overbearing dad (the too-good-for-this-movie Bruce Greenwood) isn't having any of this, because his daughter needs to devote all her time to an internship in medicine, before going off to Brown and becoming a world class doctor. She can't live on love after all! Says him! In the movies you can live on love! Cliche # 5: At one point she bursts into a restaurant at the exact moment her true love is sitting with another girl, and gets the wrong idea and storms out while he chases after her. You get the picture? I could go on, but I won't ruin all the rest of the seemingly endless cliches.
And yet, I am somewhat ashamed to admit I didn't hate this movie as much as I wanted to. As much as it looks and feels more like a bad Nicholas Sparks film or an after school special than a film from the woman who made The Greatest, I've seen worse. Sure I rolled my eyes, groaned, and laughed under my breath too many times to count, but I also stayed awake and paid attention to the whole thing. And that's more than I can say for my experience at 'The Lego Movie'. So how can I give this movie a worse grade than I did for that one? It's an apples vs. oranges conundrum that I struggle with as a film critic. I welcome your criticism.
Who is this movie for? Teen girls and die-hard romantics. It's not for those of us who live in the real world. (I believe some of you call us pessimists?)