Judge Daniel Kelly can't remember Valentines Day. He passed out drunk in a fit of loneliness.
She had him at get lost.
I Hate Valentine's Day marks the directorial debut of Nia Vardalos, the spunky actress best known for writing and starring in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. In honesty, despite that film's financial success, I've always felt it to be somewhat overrated. Vardalos is an appealing leading lady, but that movie ultimately rubbed me up the wrong way. As a consequence, I approached this effort with a fair degree of trepidation and some pretty low expectations—if it wasn't horrific I'd be counting myself lucky. Surprisingly, the film works out to be a tolerable yet unremarkable picture that benefits from a quick runtime and some modest leading performances. It's an exceedingly fluffy and forgettable movie, but I Hate Valentine's Day certainly isn't awful.
Facts of the Case
Genevieve (Nia Vardalos, My Life in Ruins) is a perky and upbeat flower shop owner with an unending love of Valentine's Day. Genevieve is a fan of the concept of romance but believes it can only flourish in short bursts, relationships kill it; and thus she only dates men for brief periods in order to attain all the good and negate the bad. Her typical rule is to go on five dates with a man, as in this period the novelty and passion of the experience carries on and the arrangement finishes before anything grim or overly serious can develop. After a chance encounter, Genevieve begins to date Greg (John Corbett, The Messengers) who thinks her five date policy will be useful to him after a string of dodgy relationships. However, as the two spend time with each other, something neither has felt before starts to blossom, and so after five joyous dates the couple is left with a hard and uncertain decision.
I Hate Valentine's Day is a very average rom-com, but that was just fine by me. The movie seeks to be an undemanding and occasionally charming story, and that's exactly what I found it to be. I'm sure Vardalos had hoped the comedy elements might work a little better than they do, but overall I can cope with the finished article. In truth I'd only recommend the film (and it would be a fairly restrained recommendation at that) to rom-com enthusiasts or lovers of the actresses' past work, but if you find yourself having to watch the picture, it isn't a total loss. I mean you could be watching Bride Wars, The Ugly Truth, or something of that deplorable ilk.
The performances from Vardalos and Corbett are decent enough, and the former does carry a sort of inherent charm that consistently keeps her watchable. Her work from a directorial and writing standpoint is less convincing, but as a romantic lead I think Vardalos is a capable and enjoyable candidate. Corbett is a notably less bubbly screen presence, but he and Vardalos do maintain a nice chemistry and in this film I found him unusually engaging. It is important to stress that the acting is ample rather than knockout brilliant, but that's more than can be said for many romantic leads. The supporting cast is made up of actors providing obvious "best friend" type performances and largely failing at being funny or memorable. I understand some comedians see this sort of role as a launch pad to bigger and better things, but based on what's offered here, I see very few of these actors picking up much heat.
As a romance, the picture plucks strongly from well-worn templates but benefits from gentle execution and a laid-back sensibility. Vardalos clearly wasn't intending to gain recognition from the academy with the piece but rather concoct a cheery and airy romantic endeavour. I Hate Valentine's Day probably succeeds with those aims a little overzealously; it is cheery and airy but almost to the point of nothingness. I guess it's this lightness of touch that allows it to go down surprisingly smoothly; it's not a great dish, but it's easy enough to digest. The comedy moments do often feel clunky and here both the writing and direction let the picture down, at times pinging for needless irreverence in a story that scarcely demands it. The broader instances of jesting are very obvious and do pander to an insanely undemanding demographic. Had the film aimed a little higher and opted for an edgier range of comedy, I suspect the movie might have found a much stronger level of appreciation from the general public. I suspect part of the failing might stem from the movie's title and marketing; everything about the picture screams anti-love but it actually lacks any genuine vitriol or acid-tongued negativity on the subject. The lead character may have intimacy issues, but Vardalos sets about resolving rather than embracing them.
The DVD is technically modest and looks pretty great for such a lo-fi release. The only bonus feature is a commentary with Vardalos and a handful of the project's producers. It actually makes for a decent listen, and I recommend young aspiring filmmakers give it a whirl as it tackles the struggles that infect low budget filmmaking with surprising clarity. Everybody (particularly the excitable Vardalos) seems very content with the final product, although the film's obvious flaws don't get much of a look in.
I Hate Valentine's Day is a frothy film that would make for bearable viewing on a plane journey or as a rental if the alternative selection is uninspired. You'll forget pretty much everything about it within 24 hours, but during the viewing process it's an inoffensive and sporadically diverting affair.
A guilty verdict would be harsh and a not guilty verdict too generous. Call it a hung jury and leave it at that.
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