"I’ll tear you apart, either with my bare hands, or my rhetoric!” So threatens a wonderfully sardonic Topher Grace in Win a Date with Tad Hamilton. Grace steals the show right out from under just about everyone in this film, so it’s kind of a shame Win a Date doesn’t spend more time with his acerbically pragmatic character, Pete Monash.
Instead, Win a Date with Tad Hamilton is really about Rosalee (Kate Bosworth), an innocent beauty from rural West Virginia caught up in the celebrity lights of big shot movie star Tad Hamilton’s (Josh Duhamel) Hollywood. To improve their client’s image, Tad’s managers (Nathan Lane and that not really all that funny guy from Will and Grace) stage a “Win a Date with Tad” contest. Rosalee of course wins, and is whisked off to Hollywood where she spends an evening with Tad, yet maintains her cliché rural morals by refusing his sexual advances. Rosalee returns home, to her job at the Piggly Wiggly, and her friends Cathy (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Pete… who is secretly in love with her.
Before Pete can at last get up the nerve to declare his affections, Tad shows up at the supermarket. Intrigued by Rosalee’s determined innocence, Tad has decided she’s just what he needs to get his life back on track. Soon Tad’s in love, leaving Pete out in the cold to do little but throw amusing verbal jabs in Tad’s general direction while Rosalee fawns over the mega-star. “Sometimes,” observes Rosalee’s subtly star struck father (Gary Cole, brilliant and underutilized as always), “Goliath kicks the shit out of David.”
Pete’s sad and desperate struggle against impossible, really rich guy odds is what sells Win a Date with Tad Hamilton. Topher proves himself as more than just “that kid on TV” and steps up to the plate to showcase rare comedic style. He’s a sharp-tongued, leading man revelation; except Win a Date never uses him that way. Instead, Pete is relegated to the status of supporting character, while we spend endless minutes following around the beautiful, yet static Rosalee as she grapples with Tad’s purely motivated affections. Both Bosworth and Duhamel are fine in their respective roles, but their roles just aren’t that interesting. This should have been Pete’s story, even if his name isn’t the one on the title.
Even without sufficient Pete time, Win a Date turns out to be an engaging little romantic comedy. A little witty, inside humor and the tenacity to poke fun at itself keep things fresh enough, a rarity these days when talking rom-coms. With a little luck, maybe this will propel Topher Grace on to bigger and better things. If it doesn’t, give him a salt-n-pepper suit and Topher will just have to be content ending up as Don Knotts. Anyone need an ironic version of Mr. Furley?