It’s a belabored point, but there are few original stories left in movies today. For each innovative idea that comes to theaters we get five where the dorky girl ends up with the popular boy, six where the underdogs defeat the odds and go on to win the championship and three where the superhero overcomes his daddy issues and stops the villain from world domination. That’s why characters are so important. Even if it’s a story that you’ve seen a thousand times, a great character can breathe new life into it. If a protagonist is engaging, relatable or even simply entertaining it can turn an entire movie around. So when your film has both a tired plot and contemptible characters, you’re really not doing yourself any favors. Enter Galt Niederhoffer’s The Romantics.
Taking place over the course of a night, Laura (Katie Holmes) reunites with her old group of college friends for a wedding on Long Island. The problem, however, is that the bride and groom are her best friend/worst enemy, Lila, (Anna Paquin) and the man she loves, Tom, (Josh Duhamel). Things only get worse, however, when Tom decides to go for a late night swim and disappears. Not wanting to worry Lila the night before her big day, Laura and the rest of the group (Malin Akerman, Adam Brody, Elijah Wood, Jeremy Strong, Dianna Agron) split up to try and find him before the ceremony.
To Niederhoffer’s credit, despite the typical “I’m in love with my best friend’s significant other,” plot, the characters actually do possess individual personalities and depth that prevent them from sinking into the background. Each has their own personality, issues, and history. What ruins the film is that there isn’t a single sympathetic character in the bunch.
The title of the film comes from a nickname the group earned during college due to their “incestuous” habits. The reason I mention this is because nearly every character is either guilty of or party to infidelity. Despite talking about how much they care for each other, there is no morality, no pang of conscience or regret. The audience is left to ask: why should we care about these people if they obviously care so little about each other? If the film’s mission is to alienate the audience, then it succeeds brilliantly.
Though forced into playing unworthy people, the actors portraying them knock it out of the park. Be it Wood as the token lush, Holmes as the nervous and out of place “other woman” or Akerman as the wild free spirit, each performer hits all of their key notes and brings their own energy to the role. Stand-out is Paquin who, while removed from the group dynamic for most of the film, puts on a terrific show as the high strung, ball-of-nerves bride-to-be. Though a controlling she-devil who lords over her friends, Anna puts on the most engaging performance of the group in what is surely the script’s most interesting role.
You’ve seen movies about scum, people you’d like to punch in the face should you ever run into them on the street. But while a film may play up a central character’s negative traits, there must be something there to balance it out. There must be something beyond the weakness. The Romantics is the story of people who are all weakness.