Synapse // 2003 // 86 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard (Retired) // July 6th, 2011
"In every person's romantic life, there is a defining moment. This was mine."
Following a failed romantic liaison when he was ten years old, Michael (James Lorinz, Frankenhooker) has grown up to be a shy, neurotic magazine editor with a distinct inability to form a meaningful relationship with a woman, something he desperately craves. In sharp contrast, his brother, Frankie (Robert Mobley) is full of confidence and excels with the ladies. His current squeeze, Lila (Barbara Sicuranza), is a vivacious bartender with a penchant for arm-wrestling everyone who enters her bar. On a whim, Lila sets up Michael with her roommate, Sherry (Joan Jett -- yes, the Joan Jett of "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" fame), a tough biker chick who terrifies Michael with her badass attitude. Worse still, Michael finds himself increasingly drawn more and more towards Lila, leading to the two brothers vying for her affections.
Echoes of Woody Allen (Annie Hall), and a touch of Richard Linklater (Before Sunrise) are evident throughout The Sweet Life, but this "romantic comedy...for people who hate romantic comedies!" fails to deliver on its promise. Indeed, while the dialogue is generally good, the film's narrative arc is pretty much a bust and walks similar ground to the mainstream movies it seemingly detests. Brothers Michael and Frankie, who are chalk and cheese, are really no more different than the love rivals of any rom-com, with one loud and obnoxious, the other refined and more introverted. It's not too much of a stretch to draw comparisons to Colin Firth's and Hugh Grant's roles in Bridget Jones's Diary. In fact, if The Sweet Life offers anything different, it is the way in which its supposed heroine, Lila, is left an emotional wreck by the film's end. The to-ing and fro-ing of Lila between Michael and Frankie only serves to wear this once strong woman down, with Lila so battered and bruised emotionally that she ends the film with none of the spark she possessed when we first met her and so downtrodden that she'll marry Frankie for reasons that make no sense.
Writer/director Rocco Simonelli's screenplay is full of quick-witted dialogue that is both the movies strong point and its major failing. There's a nice exchange between Michael and Lila where the two get to know each after Frankie ends things with her. Lila, who is visibly upset, finds solace in the goodhearted Michael. The scene works well, as it touches on small character nuances -- such as Lila's revelation that she liked to pretend to eat with the families on TV shows as a child, to compensate for her actual upbringing -- and helps present a much needed vulnerability to, what at this point, is a brash, and confident personality. The flipside of this are a succession of poor, trite scenes that letdown the good work Simonelli has put in. These include an excruciating scene where Michael intends to set straight Frankie's co-workers who, apparently, assume he is gay. It's unfunny and, more crucially, works itself into a corner as it searches aimlessly for a point or a good gag. Worse still, the film goes on to repeat the trick during the final act with similar results. A (supposedly) humorous visit to the local arthouse cinema to see La Dolce Vita is similarly aggravating, with Lila's ignorant observations ("Where's the color, why are they speaking French?") only serving to setup the inevitable -- but not wholly necessary -- confrontation between the two fledgling lovers that drives the third act.
The comedy is generally quite broad, and relies on characters shouting obscenities a little too much. Jokes are less than subtle, with the setups telegraphing the punch line from a mile off. Still, a recurring gag that sees Lila repeatedly mistaken for a prostitute comes closest to earning a laugh, much like the clash of personalities witnessed when Sherry takes the straight-laced Michael to a biker bar. Despite some good work by the cast, with Lorinz being the standout, The Sweet Life is not the radical take on the romantic comedy it sets out to be. Simonelli clearly has a knack for strong dialogue -- even though he drops the ball occasionally -- making the film a not entirely horrible experience. With such lofty ambitions, it's impossible to consider The Sweet Life anything other than a letdown.
The DVD comes complete with an audio commentary featuring director Rocco Simonelli, and actors James Lorinz and Barbara Sicuranza. The track is a good blend of insights and amusing anecdotes -- chief amongst them being the trio recalling how most of the cast and crew were ill following dinner at a restaurant they used for filming. Simonelli also discusses his preference for long takes, as opposed to (as he puts it) fast cuts from Michael Bay (Bad Boys II), and expresses the importance of dialogue. A making of and deleted scenes are also included.
Picture quality on the DVD is generally good, with a solid 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer. The stereo soundtrack is perfectly fine, and presents no real issues -- or anything too showy -- being a dialogue-heavy track.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 86 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted/Extended Scenes