Its name is bound to inspire piles of lovely puns, parodies, and really lame jokes so here’s mine: Ashton Kutcher’s latest is a lot like a great movie, but not. On the surface it avoids all the usual romantic comedy clichés. In fact, for most of it’s running time, A Lot Like Love’s protagonists spend their brief moments together deliberately avoiding love. On paper the film seems like a fresh, inspired take on romance stories, but when you get right down in it, it’s not.
A very young Oliver (Ashton Kutcher) and Emily (Amanda Peet) meet on a New York bound airplane when Emily follows Oliver to the bathroom and uses him to join the mile high club. Oliver returns to his seat with a bewildered smile, and on leaving the plane introduces himself to her. Emily blanches, and accuses him of “ruining it”. She leaves, but in a convenient twist of fate the two bump into each other again the next morning. They spend the day together, doing all the goofy things that folks in their early twenties and pre-programmed by MTV do when spending a day with the opposite sex in an unfamiliar city. They take cutesy pictures in the park, have semi-meaningful conversations, and part ways. He gives her his phone number, but she never calls.
Time passes and the rest of the movie is spent spanning seven years of meetings in which the two reunite for single days, and then don’t speak again until their next non-date a couple more years down the road. Each time they rendezvous is completely different. Their first convergence is filled with youthful exuberance and optimism, but by their last both are weighed down by the cares that come only with approaching middle-age. As the years roll by, the pair gradually becomes more than acquaintances. A friendship grows (albeit one that’s exercised rarely), and then perhaps even more.
I like the idea of a non-romance stretched out over several years, and I like the energy Amanda Peet brings to her character. Even the usually blank, lost, and terminally stupid Ashton Kutcher captures the right amount of shy, beguiling nuance to make Oliver likable without becoming an over romanticized Hollywood hunk. Their relationship seems real and plausible, for the most part missing the lame, obvious, manufactured romantic beats that plague so many other films. It’s almost as if A Lot Like Love wants to be a lovey-dovey, stretched out version of Garden State; a movie that taps in to the feelings of a nearly thirty-something generation of former youngsters now looking back on their lives with longing and regret. Screenwriter Colin Patrick Lynch has put all the right elements in there to do that, but it’s as if his story is just trying too hard to reach that place and as a result ends up missing the mark. At some point, Lynch simply gives up and closes with a predictable, easy, throwaway ending. Forget the happy ending and wrap on one of the movie’s downbeats and the film could have left its audience with something different, something that’ll stick after they leave the theater. Instead, Lynch’s predictable closer turns his story from something thoughtful into merely a more tolerable take on the misguided movie Serendipity.
Actually, the Cusack movie comparisons don’t end there. Director Nigel Cole throws in a lot of Cusack-like moments, including romance in a music store, and a guitar version of that tired boom box scene from Say Anything. A Lot Like Love’s score feels like it’s clawing for a similar Cusack level significance, filled with romantic rock songs that are nearly noteworthy, but aren’t. The music, though it plays as if it was carefully chosen, never truly synchs up with what’s happening in the movie. Maybe these were Cole’s second choices after he failed to find the budget to license the songs he really wanted. Whatever the reason, most of it sounds like it should fit, but like everything else in the film never quite does.
Still, I’m convinced there was a great romance movie in here somewhere if only someone involved had managed to find it. What’s on screen is a frustrating experience that only hints at the potential beneath A Lot Like Love’s end result. Because Director Nigel Cole is at least trying to make something more than average out of his story, much of what he does capture is entertaining, romantic, and a few years ago would have starred John Cusack. A Lot Like Love is no Cameron Crowe movie, but there’s enough effort here to make it tolerable. I hate admitting that Ashton Kutcher keeps making not-that-horrible-movies, but until he makes a legitimately great one or stops dating Demi Moore, I think I’m still comfortable hating him.