[14 February 2011]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
The Romantics is billed as “a captivating film about love, friendship and loyalty”. So, of course, none of those things are actually apparent in the film. The tagline states that nothing complicates friendship like love, but the truth is nothing ruins a story about love like its complete absence.
Adapted by Galt Niderhoffer from her novel, The Romantics reunites a group of seven college friends for the wedding of two of their own. The bride is wealthy, uptight and clearly controlling Lila (Anna Paquin) and the groom is Tom (Josh Duhamel), the obligatory handsome cad. The conflict should be immediately obvious, because there is an odd number. Laura (Katie Holmes) is the odd woman out. She’s also the ex-roommate of the bride, the ex-girlfriend of the groom and, naturally, the maid of honor in the wedding. The other members of the group are paired off already, Pete (Jeremy Strong) and Tripler (Malin Akerman) are married and Jake (Adam Brody) and Weesie (Rebecca Lawrence) are engaged. However, they’ve all been involved with each other at some point—hence the title “The Romantics”—and the night before the wedding is really just an excuse to change partners again.
With the exception of Akerman, who is fresh and funny as the wild child Tripler, none of the core cast is particularly good. In fact the people to watch are are the somewhat peripheral characters, like Candice Bergen and Dianna Argon as the no-nonsense mother and the long-suffering little sister of the bride, respectively. The best, most interesting performance belongs to Elijah Wood as Chip, Lila’s alcoholic younger brother. He’s note perfect, and although his scenes are far too brief, he gives The Romantics what little spark it possesses. Unfortunately, the rest of the characters are either stale or strident, and it’s not all the fault of a predictable plot, but that certainly doesn’t help.
The bulk of the story takes place in the 12 hours between the rehearsal dinner and the ceremony, as drunken dinner toasts lead to drunken reveling and reminiscing. For everyone but Lila, that is, who takes her lemon-sucking expression upstairs to await her planned perfect day in a series of shots that see her scowling, smoking and scowling some more (it’s a bit of a waste of Paquin, because the intended tension doesn’t translate). The remaining Romantics, plus Chip, decide to take a skinny dip in the ocean, after which, they discover Tom is missing. Rather than alert the bride to the groom’s disappearance—or, you know, call the authorities, just in case he’s drowned—the group decides to look for him on foot. First they switch partners, because every search party needs to spice up its sex life. Laura gets saddled with Chip, so she dumps him on the path back from the beach and strikes out on her own. The group has a lot of ground to cover, you see. The guest house, a couch in the attic in the main house, the lone tree in the open yard between the two…
While her mates are swapping mates, Laura finds Tom (he was behind the tree) and they proceed to argue about how their own relationship was not resolved before Tom proposed to Lila. Holmes’ Laura woodenly recites some romantic poetry that’s meant to be an accusation. Then, they have sex under the tree. No one sees this, despite Laura waking up there in the morning light. There’s a letdown of a showdown between Laura and Lila just before the ceremony, in which they glare and shriek at each other about betrayal but never once lay any blame on Tom. Finally we reach the open-ended ending, and it’s a wholly dissatisfying finish to a fairly dissatisfying film. The Romantics is not a story about love, friendships and loyalty. Rather, it’s just pettiness, betrayal and cowardice disguised as a love triangle. The DVD includes a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film, with cast and crew interviews.