Judge Brett Cullum loves an identity crisis!
Emily 'Jacks' Jackson: Stop living your life like you're in some kind of
You always think certain genres are made of clichés that are unbreakable, and we'll never see a fresh twist ever again. For me romantic comedies have become like that lately, but then along comes something witty and offbeat like Love and Other Disasters. I'm not sure who the film should be aimed at, but whoever is lucky enough to discover it by accident will probably have a pretty good time. You don't think an old "romcom" is hip enough for you? Check out the film "street cred" this one has. Just consider the producers are David Fincher (director of Fight Club) and Luc Beeson (director of The Fifth Element). Yep those two are funding and developing a romantic comedy, so you know this it's going to be different and quirky if not downright strange. The film was written and directed by Alek Keshishian who is mainly known for following the world's best known pop star around for the cinematic documentary of her first big tour Madonna: Truth or Dare.
Brittany Murphy plays Emily Jackson ("Jacks" for short), a young bright eyed woman who works at British Vogue. Jacks dresses like Carrie Bradshaw from Sex And The City, and lives with her gay best friend (Matthew Rhys, Brothers and SIsters). So she's Sarah Jessica Parker and "Grace Adler" living in London with a bizarre accent that crosses back and forth from posh to Alabama on a dime (the film explains it away saying she was raised in the U.S.). She's dating her ex more out of convenience than anything else; meanwhile, her gay roommate pines for impossible fantasies that can never come true. One is too practical, and the other is a dreamer. Can they help each other get on the right track and meet in the middle? What happens when a guy Jacks finds for her gay roommate falls for someone unexpected?
The interesting dynamic here is the film plays self-conscious, almost like a romantic comedy counterpart to the first Scream film. The characters know they are in a romantic comedy, and pop in videos of other famous films to get clues of how to figure things out. Breakfast at Tiffany's makes several appearances on the tv, as does Notting Hill which is also viewed as a guide for our heroes. The characters nearly address the audience, and say things like "If this were a film…". There is even a point when there is a movie within a movie sequence, and you'll almost pee laughing when you discover who they've decided to cast in the lead roles of the characters we've been watching. I don't think I've seen this done with the genre before, and it's kind of a nice conceit to see played out.
Another interesting aspect of the film is that the cast is uniformly solid. Brittany Murphy can't hold an English accent to save her life, but she is cute as a button with a great sense of comedy. She's been flailing her entire career to find the right vehicle, and this one could have been it if it had been more widely released. Matthew Rhys is simply adorable as her gay best friend, and British television star Catherine Tate (Bleak House) has a great go as the acid tongued drugged out female best friend. Heroes star from season one, Santiago Cabrera, gets to moon at the camera as the "he is so gay" photographer's assistant who has a secret. What the cast manages to do is take some really stereotypical characters in a self-aware comedy, and actually manage to spike some truth out of the smart dialogue. They play quirky but believable which is hard under any circumstance. They juggle the absurd with a serious intent very well. Also of note, watch out for Dawn French in an absolutely fabulous cameo as a psychologist who has quite a revelatory way to look at relationships.
Love and Other Disasters has had a strange road to release taking years to even surface in America. It first came out in Russia of all places in 2006 as a test market. Then it went to Asian countries, as if they would understand a comedy about a gay guy and his "Holly Golightly" styled roommate any better. The film was shelved for a bit, and then began getting trotted out for the odd gay and lesbian film festival here and there. It's not truly a gay movie, but then again straight people aren't going to feel it belongs to them either. No, this one's a hard one to figure out in terms of easy demographics. Truth is the studio that produced this film has no idea who the hell is going to buy this thing and appreciate it.
Image Entertainment has released Love and Other Disasters in a package that looks to aim for the romantic comedy set, and not really the gay crowd. We see an airbrushed Brittany Murphy with her legs crossed, and looking almost as if she came out of a '60s fashion shoot. The transfer is clean and clear with a hyper color palette that screams "COMEDY!". There are two audio options including the full surround experience as well as the simple stereo configuration. Neither choice will dampen your enjoyment, as both tracks are clear and distortion free. The only supplement is a trailer and a well made "making of" featurette which includes cast and crew onset and discussing what they are trying to do.
I wouldn't call Love and Other Disasters a great film or an undiscovered jewel, but it is a pleasant surprise. It's a gleeful look at some lovable characters who know all too well that romantic comedies are never quite as smart as they should be. Alek Keshishian has managed to wring out a unique romantic comedy, and turn his weaknesses into strengths. Sure he has a hackneyed genre to work in, a lead actress who can't be British, and the thankless job of having Sex And The City coming a decade before him. Somehow though he manages to make it all feel fresh enough to make us laugh, and in the end that's what counts. The movie will work best with women and their best gay friends along for the ride, and for that niche this one works nicely.
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