By BRUCE DENNILL
In Secret / Directed by Charlie Stratton / 16SV 7.5
Breathe In / Directed by Drake Doremus / 13L 6
If I Were You / Directed by Joan Carr-Wiggin / 16LD 6
Blended / Directed by Frank Coraci / 10L 2
Accidental Love / Directed by Stephen Greene / PGL 8
Ah, romance. What would the movie industry be without it? Even in epics built around giant lizards or dramas about bending it like Beckham, there’s a couple whose love for each other is either blossoming or developing. Set a film in any context, in any era, and you’ll have romance in some guise as a pillar of the storyline (there’s even a love affair in the Narcissus biopic, though a smaller cast is needed in that case).
In In Secret, love – and the lack of it – opens up a nasty can of worms. The film is a period drama, set in Paris in the 1860s, before the travel agents had worked their magic on the city’s branding. In a musty little shop, a gorgeous young woman (Elizabeth Olsen) under the watchful eye of her domineering mother-in-law (Jessica Lange, so you know it’s going to get edgy), who unfailingly supports her cruel, colourless son Camille (Tom Felton, no more pleasant here than he is when bullying that nice Harry boy at Hogwarts). Somehow, Camille has managed to make at least one friend in his life and his buddy Laurent (newly minted Star Wars flyboy Oscar Isaac, but with added sideburns) is both dreamy to look at, you know, not a massive plonker. Does that make the inevitable affair between the prettiest people on the screen okay? No. Does it make it understandable? Perhaps. Does it throw viewers off the scent in terms of the expected outcome of the situation? Absolutely – but without introducing ridiculous plot twists. This is intelligent filmmaking and writing and director Charlie Stratton does well to keep the tone constant, even as events take disturbing turns.
Breathe In involves another illicit hook-up, again based on recognisably realistic flaws in its protagonists. The issues here are chronic insecurity (Guy Pearce’s middle-aged dad) and youthful naivete (Felicity Jones’ English exchange student, come to stay with his New York State family. Not an awful lot happens – particularly outside of what regular film viewers will expect given the set-up – but there is a beguiling impetus built up as one character gains confidence and the other loses it, both without apparently taking into account the effect their actions will have. There’s more than a hint of American Beauty to the story, though this one is not quite as elegant or haunting. There is a musical element to proceedings – both of the characters at the centre of the piece are excellent performers – that increases appeal, though the examination of ennui, as necessary as it is, tempers any cheer that facet of the film generates.
The premise for If I Were You is a little trickier. A woman who knows her husband is cheating on her happens to meet the man’s mistress – though she doesn’t know that is the case. The pair hit it off and make a pact to try and fix the problems in each other’s lives. To this irony is added a touch of humour in that both women land up in a very, very poor production of King Lear, and what might have been a warmed feminist treatise becomes an idiosyncratic comedy-drama that, despite its cast – the always outstanding Marcia Gay Harden is the slighted wife, and Aiden Quinn makes a rare foray back into the limelight – never entirely convinces. Still, depending on your mood while you’re watching, the laughs won’t be enough to overshadow the despondency at the heart of the situation: lies, deception and heartbreak aren’t consistently good for gags.
What’s even worse where gags are concerned are pretty much all of Adam Sandler’s recent films, and Blended is particularly stinky. If you’re feeling charitable, you may concede that trying to draw attention to the complexities faced by so-called blended families is a commendable exercise. But all the goodwill in the world will dissolve under the burden of the bad taste, poor writing and terrible decision-making assembled here. Unfunny jokes, horrible acting and the setting back of whatever progress had been made in American ignorance regarding Africa – two thirds of the film takes place in and around Sun City, an already vulgar fairytale, but Sandler and company go above and beyond in senseless idiocy terms – make this not only a poor film, but an annoying one. An utter waste of time.
Right at the other end of the scale is Accidental Love, an odd, frequently silly and ultimately delightfully clever comedy that satirises the attitudes of those opposed to Barack Obama’s affordable health care plan. It doesn’t even try to go the route of serious commentary, rather leaping gleefully into profoundly daft parody that is wholly embraced by a big-name cast – Jessica Biel, Jake Gylenhaal. Catherine Keener, James Marsden and Tracy Morgan all shine. The romance aspect sees unlikely small-town heroine Alice (Biel) abandon the supposedly perfect life she’d enjoy with saucer-deep local stud Scott (Marsden) after she gets injured and is refused treatment based on her financial situation, leading her beau to abandon her. She seeks solace in Washington wannabe Howard Birdwell (Gyllenhaal), hoping that his connections will help her to get the treatment she needs. That sounds fairly serious, even vaguely Erin Brokovich-ish, but director Stephen Greene ensures that the plot takes such preposterous turns, so often and so hilariously, that the film’s serious message hits hard because it somehow makes it through such a ludicrous filter en route to the viewer. It seems improbable that such an achievement would be the work of an unknown director, and it is, for Greene is actually David O Russell, the craftsman behind such award-winning projects as Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle. There was some Hollywood dodginess behind the scenes that made him feel it necessary to sign on under a pseudonym, but hopefully he’ll one day claim this riotous romp for what it is – a stand-out (if difficult to market) comedy that constantly surprises.