A LOT LIKE LOVE (2005)
Starring Ashton Kutcher, Amanda Peet, Kathryn Hahn, Kal Penn, Ali Larter, Taryn Manning, Gabriel Mann, Jeremy Sisto, Aimee Garcia, Lee Garlington, Birdie M. Hale, Ty Giordano, Melissa van der Schyff, Theresa Spruill, James Read, Molly Cheek, Sarah Ann Morris, Amy Aquino, Constance Hsu, Josh Stamberg, Misty Louwagie, Sam Pancake, Sarah Shahi, Moon Bloodgood and Robert Peters.
Screenplay by Colin Patrick Lynch.
Directed by Nigel Cole.
Distributed by Touchstone Pictures. 95 minutes. Rated PG-13.
If two shallow people fall in love in the desert and there is no one there to hear them, will they make a sound?
This is just one of the many questions that are not answered in A Lot Like Love, a love story that is alternately charming and insipid. It is a romantic comedy that, interestingly, values the romance over the comedy. In fact, in several places, it seems like it is striving for drama status. Yet, the audience can’t get a grasp in their rooting interest for these two extremely attractive people to get together, because, frankly, even though we watch them growing and changing over a seven-year period (which roughly seems to be between 1993 and 2000), we really don’t know who they are.
Oh, we know some of the very basic facts. She (Amanda Peet) is a former punk turned aspiring photographer. He (Ashton Kutcher) is a former frat goofball turned dot-com exec. She’s arty, he’s commerce. She’s bold, he’s shy. She’s yin, he’s yang. Their friends all think they make an adorable couple, but the only time the two of them notice is when the other one is not available. His sister (Taryn Manning) thinks he’s a dick, a line that she repeats in her every scene over the seven-year scope of the movie. But he’s basically a good, grounded guy. We are supposed to know this because even though he is trying to be an internet millionaire, he is also trying to provide a valuable family service: diapers. Also, flush with the money of a venture capital fortune, he is not willing to blow his money on a conspicuous-consumption SUV like his partner (Kal Penn.) She throws herself head first into relationships because she is desperate for love, and yet afraid of it at the same time. We know this because it is just about all that she and her best friends (Kathryn Hahn, Ali Larter) ever talk about.
They meet “seven years ago” on a flight from LA to New York. He thinks she’s cute, so he takes some pictures of her when she isn’t looking. She thinks he’s cute, so she jumps him in the airplane bathroom, joining the mile-high club without saying a single word to each other. Later, at the baggage carousel, he tries to introduce himself to her (hi, I’m Oliver, the guy you just had sex with), but she wants no part of a relationship that includes the complication of talking. Later, they run into each other in the city (most people in New York almost never run into someone they know, but it happens all the time in the movies) and they spend the day walking around and getting to know each other. They have sex again (this time in an actual bed) and then part.
They get together again periodically (three years ago, two years ago, last year, six months ago, etc.) to have sex and complain about their current relationships and/or business problems. Every time one of them thinks there may be a future beyond this, they are too frightened to say it, so the relationship just keeps skipping on at the same pace.
More than occasionally it does seem like we’re witnessing the courtship of two junior high school students – in different dating situations they amuse themselves by spitting water at each other from across the table, imitating a walrus by sticking straws up their noses and showing each other the half-chewed food in their mouth.
In his recent review of this film, Roger Ebert said that these are the two shallowest people in the world; they’ve never read a book, read a newspaper, even read a magazine. They’ve never watched TV, had an idea or a stimulating conversation. They have no knowledge or interests outside of the little cocoon of their life. While I think that assessment may be a little harsh, there is an element of truth to it. Too often Oliver and Emily are not so much characters as sketches of characters. What they do is not so much at the service of their lives as it is at the service of the plot. And if they’d just for once say what they were feeling, they may very well have been together for seven years instead of flittering in and out of each other’s lives as fuck-buddies.
This vagueness of character is no fault of the actors; Peet is winningly charming and kooky in her role and Kutcher is likable and funny. The fault lies squarely at the doorstep of screenwriter Colin Patrick Lynch, who does not invest his roles with many defining features, he is content to skim across their surface.
When we finally arrive at the present day (at least in terms of the movie, it seems to be five years ago in terms of the real world) and the fates have finally freed them both up at the same time, the audience is still put through a regimen of sub-Three’s Company complications and misunderstandings. Her friend happens to run into Oliver (I won’t even get into the fact that LA is almost as bad as New York for running into people) and sees him being fitted for a tuxedo, so he must be getting married, right? Because no one ever wears a tuxedo for any other reason, correct? Emily storms right to his parents’ house to break up his wedding, or tell him what she feels, or something – I don’t think even she knows exactly why she’s there. She is the only person in the world who does not realize that this set-up is not his wedding, but still after talking with him for a while and making a fool of herself, she chickens out and leaves. He chases her outside and explains that it is not his wedding, it’s his sister’s – despite the fact that he had no reason to believe that she believed otherwise and if he did know that she thought it to be the case, he could have cleared it up to her five minutes earlier when they first started talking.
Cue much crying and sappy music. Will they live happily ever after? Who knows? Then again, you never really got the feeling that ever after has ever mattered all that much to either of them. (4/05)
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2005 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: April 30, 2005.