It’s a little disconcerting to discover I have not, after all, reached peak cynicism when it comes to the romantic comedy. Though I consider myself a lapsed devotee of the genre, I still find an old-fashioned innocence and soft-centredness to Max Landis’ Me Him Her.
It’s true that finding that center requires looking past the film’s faux-indie surface touches, as when LAX greets travelers with snarky slogans and characters dress like their outfits should have cute, punning ModCloth names. Still, Me Him Her is worth the effort. Opening in select US theaters and available on VOD on 11 March, this self-consciously modern love story showcases fluid sexuality and dialogue that would never pass from the lips of a Nora Ephron character. The action, narrated by a set of decidedly “offbeat” individuals, sometimes recalls an episode of Happy Endings, as both sitcom and movie feature Casey Wilson and a bright, inclusive outlook.
That outlook is partly embodied by Brendan (Luke Bracey), the closeted TV action star of an inexplicably popular cop show, who begins Me Him Her by coming out to his childhood best friend, Cory (Dustin Milligan). Even as Brendan is feeling understandable distress, one of the movie’s most appealing inclinations is its undercutting of these sorts of emotional moments. “I know,” Cory says, turning any potential tension into comedy. It’s debatable whether this example might help any closeted action stars looking for pointers, but this simultaneously heartening and ego-pricking response reminds us that, apart from a few bitchy entertainment reporters, no one much cares about celebrities’ sexual identities, these days.
Once he’s out, Brendan faces another issue, as he’s nursing a crush on a member of the film crew after sharing a kiss with him on the props truck. Here Me Him Her does a solid job of showing how a formerly-known-as-straight man might embark on a same-sex romance experience, exhibiting an acutely adolescent vulnerability.
That vulnerability extends to straight characters, as well. During a night out, when Cory means to help Brendan approach his crush, Cory instead has a one-night stand with avowed lesbian Gabbi (Emily Meade). At first, she looks like a none-too-fresh take on the tormented, unavailable Indie Movie Girlfriend, fresh out of a toxic relationship with her terrible “cartoonishly evil” girlfriend (Angela Sarafyan). While Cory is instantly smitten, Gabbi takes a little longer to accept that she might want a relationship with a man, and much of the film goes on to follow her crisis of identity.
In this and other instances, Me Him Her plays with stereotypes, from the fey, vain actor and the flannel-wearing butch to the malicious ex. These broad illustrations draw attention to a little acknowledged dichotomy in gay stereotypes, as Gabbi’s resistance to Cory looks more dogmatic than her gay male counterparts’ automatic enjoyment of the company of women. The most overt misogyny in the film emerges in characters’ use of the terms “gold-star lesbian” and “fake lesbian”, through which even the gay women are defined by their relationships with men.
Even with these wince-inducing caveats, Me Him Her can be proudly silly, indulging in cloying fantasy sequences and a recurring Freudian nightmare featuring a huge, looming penis. Genuinely disturbing, the penis appears like a stripe-less, blind sandworm escaped from a weird, smutty version of a Tim Burton movie. These over-the-top sequences seem of a piece with the film’s insistently daft, self-involved representations of Los Angeles and those who live there, clichés played mostly for laughs, even if the script occasionally veers off into horror-movie tropes.
The film’s essential good nature and abundant charm may be best demonstrated by its pretty backwash of ’80s-influenced electro-pop on the soundtrack and gently mocking cameos by Geena Davis and Scott Bakula as Brendan’s understanding parents (Haley Joel Osment’s turn as a crazed, screeching version of himself is less successful). Such casting and music choices offer a calculated nostalgia, laced through with newer ideas about romance. As it concludes with a mock PSA that interrupts the end credits, poking fun at earnest celebrity-led save-the-world campaigns, you see again that Me Him Her knows where it comes from as it satirizes all aspects of Hollywood, from its glossy façades to its generic conventions.