A Lot Like Love is a lot like a lot of other utterly disposable movies — only more annoying.
Working from the concept of two people with bad timing, first-time offender Colin Patrick Lynch has taken this bewhiskered plot device and somehow stretched it out to a feature length script. It’s not a bad plot device on its own merits; after all, Gone With the Wind is less about the Civil War than it’s about two people with really lousy timing. Rhett wants Scarlet, who doesn’t want him, and by the time she decides she wants him, he doesn’t give a damn.
Fair enough. But Gone With the Wind had enough sense to leave it at that. A Lot Like Love, on the other hand, stages and restages this idea about six times — and it gets old just about as fast as do the numerous opportunities this affords the leads to “meet cute” each and every time. And that gets old nearly as fast as the film’s notion that characters who shove things up their noses and display mouths full of masticated food are both cute and charming.
If this is the state of courtship in the 21st century, then romance is not only dead, it’s decomposed.
The movie charts the seven-year, on-again-off-again-on-again-off-again (and so on) relationship of Oliver Martin (Ashton Kutcher) and Emily Friehl (Amanda Peet), two of the biggest noncharacters ever to disgrace the silver screen. It all starts when Emily corners Oliver in an airplane lavatory and confers conjugal rights on him. I’ll admit that this would be one hell of an icebreaker, but it quickly leads to some sophomoric nonsense where she insists he’ll “ruin it” if they get to know each other. Naturally, they get to know each other anyway, but this doesn’t take very long, because there’s nothing to know about them.
Oliver and Emily are all surface — a pair of MTV-generation clones with no personalities. Emily is going through a tepidly rebellious Goth-girl phase that does nothing but provide an excuse for her surliness and her mile-high club antics. There’s even less that meets the eye with Oliver. If ever two people deserved each other, this pair does. The script never bothers to give them any character. What do they want? What do they like? Are they interested in anything? Do they have any dreams? After 100 or so minutes of watching them hook up and unhook, I still don’t know the answer to any of these questions.
Oliver has some sort of five-year plan for success, but it’s a nebulous one that’s grounded not in what he wants to do but in what he wants to acquire. This can be — and in fact is — reduced to an undefined good job, a big house, a nice car and a beautiful wife. This is somebody’s idea of an interesting character around which to build a movie?
Emily, on the other hand, seems to just drift along from one thing to another — with no actual commitment to anything and a mysteriously endless supply of money that allows her to keep an improbably large apartment in the heart of Los Angeles, regardless of her circumstances.
It’s as if someone decided that the two characters on the street in Annie Hall — the ones who explain to Woody Allen that their relationship works because they’re both shallow and have no opinions — would make great subjects for a movie of their own. They don’t.
The dullness even extends to the supporting characters. Oliver’s business partner (Kal Penn, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle) in the dot-com diaper business (don’t ask) shows no interest in anything but the Hummer he buys when they’re briefly flush.
What you end up with is a dull romantic comedy about two characters you’re never given any reason to like as they endlessly fall in and out of love to a shapeless pop-music soundtrack designed to appeal to those who are nostalgic for the ’90s. Are there people who are really like this? Sure there are, but that doesn’t mean I want to see a movie about them.
Of course, there’s the Kutcher factor to contend with. Most of the time it’s hard enough to believe he has two brain cells to rub together, but the script makes it just that much harder here. In a scene where he visits Emily’s mother’s grave, he makes the stupefying observation that the mother “died young, huh?” Since Emily’s about 23 at the time, what was he expecting — a ripe old age?
Frankly, Peet isn’t a whole lot better off, especially in her incarnation as a (far from inspired) photographer. We’re supposed to glean that she’s become a serious artist because she’s upgraded from a few hundred dollars’ worth of Nikon to a couple thousand dollars’ worth of Hasselblad. OK, that’s reasonable, but no one thought to instruct her in the camera’s use (she should have watched Julia Roberts in Closer), since she handles it with the assurance of someone who was just handed a bomb with a lighted fuse.
On the very minor plus side, Nigel Cole has made a credible-looking film, and the garden courtyard of Emily’s apartment makes for a very attractive setting. However, the mere fact that I paused to admire the courtyard speaks volumes about my level of engagement with the story. Rated PG-13 for sexual content, nudity and language.
— reviewed by Ken Hanke