The young and the generic
"The Romantics’’ is a serious wedding-weekend comedy with parts for Katie Holmes, Anna Paquin, Adam Brody, Malin Akerman, and Elijah Wood. Not long after the montage of pitiful rehearsal-dinner toasts, the groom, Tom (Josh Duhamel), is cheered into a speech of his own. He stands over his small audience of adoring former classmates and says, among other things, the following: “The seven of us are friends. The seven of us are family. We’re everything to each other. Sisters. Brother. Mother. Nurse. Shrink. Opponent. Rival. We share history. And we share a goal. To inspire. To be inspired. That, my friends, that’s the imperative. Without that, we got nothin’.’’
Like the rest of the dialogue, that speech is purple enough to qualify as horseshoes in a bowl of Lucky Charms. In any case, if what Tom says is even remotely true, why does everyone seem like they just met at the craft services table? The actors have an amicable rapport, but as an ensemble they scarcely seem like they’ve been friends for 10 years, even if most of them are playing Yale WASPs.
But Galt Niederhoffer’s well-photographed movie (by Sam Levy), which she adapted from her two-year-old novel, pushes on. Tom is scheduled to marry Lila (Paquin), but for years he dated Laura (Holmes), who arrives at Lila’s family’s beachside manse as the maid of honor, not having seen Tom since the date was set.
What ensues is a couple of days of confession and mild debauchery. It’s all sketchy and banal. Tom goes missing, and the gang splits up into pairs to find him. The husband in one couple winds up getting drunk with the girlfriend in another. The sister of the bride hides, wearing the wedding dress, in the same attic where a different swapped couple makes out.
Niederhoffer’s book wasn’t original, but it wasn’t the flavorless abstraction her movie’s become. It was perceptive. The details of class and snobbery and personal failure have been discarded. The book was full of achy young adults. The movie is full of TV-drama castaways. Niederhoffer is also a producer, and I imagine one of the reasons she neutered her book was to make her film more seemingly commercial. She went too far in the wrong direction.
Her movie risks nothing. Well, almost nothing. Holmes is asked to do most of the emoting, and, while Paquin is sharper and her dialogue better, Holmes’s hurt makes you long to see what she can do in a more confidently made movie. Otherwise, it’s hard to care about people this generic — even when they’re naked. The penchant for nudity is one fact the movie gets right about Yale. Although, once Duhamel hoists a Keats poem via a glowing iPhone, the way John Cusack held that boombox in “Say Anything,’’ the character study tips into farce.
Wesley Morris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.