Sunday, 12 October 2008

Not just an Oasis album title

Romance is a difficult genre to pull off in film, at least for me. In my experience, syrupy messes are the most frequent result. The best (only?) way to salvage something, and garner brownie points with me, is to aim for the tricky "romantic comedy" sub-genre.

This Friday's DVD-in-the-post was the unlikely sounding Definitely, Maybe. Despite the anodyne description that accompanied the disc, and which almost put us off from the get-go, this was a surprisingly good addition to the stable. It didn't get off to a great start, with what appeared a treacly framing device involving the lead character's young daughter. However, this was deftly offset by giving her a sex education-inspired vocabulary and deploying it to good comic effect. The framing device itself borrows from The Princess Bride, but tells a very different story in which the lead character presents how he met his daughter's mother as a comical mystery involving three very different women. The daughter, showing a movies-only level of childhood intuition, picks up on the subtext in this tale, ultimately leading to the obligatory (if still enjoyable) happy ending.

Particularly helping the movie's palatability is Kevin Kline in a supporting role as a lecherous novelist and sometime lover of one of the leading female characters. There's a great gag involving his being accused of leaving this character for a sophomore student, to which he responds that he did no such thing, and that it was actually two freshmen students. Acting as a foil for the lead in this way he steals laughs whenever he's on screen (even as his character is seriously ill in a hospital bed).

Another interesting recurrent strand is the film's use of former President Clinton. The film begins with the lead working proudly on Clinton's ultimately successful campaign in 1992, but its timeline then charts the creeping disillusionment caused by the subsequent "scandals" (sidenote: which now seem completely ridiculous relative to the true scandals of the Reagan-Bush-Bush presidencies). However, despite this disillusion, the film still seems like a love letter to Bill to me. The lead character may have been let down by him, but he still loves him (even waving forlornly and unnoticed at Clinton as he, and his bodyguards, jog passed him in Central Park).

Anyway, clearly the lesson/cliché here is not to judge a book by its cover.

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