Hard to know what to make of a hack job called The Romantics. Seven postgrad friends dedicating their lives to the question “Is there life after campus sex?” gather on a weekend near the sea for the wedding of two of their most popular pals. Since the bride (Anna Paquin) and her sister, who is also her maid of honor (Katie Holmes, who unwisely co-produced), have both slept with the groom (boyishly handsome TV heartthrob Josh Duhamel), the sibling rivalry leads to a drunken fiasco that covers one night of nudity, alcohol, drugs and husband-wife swapping in which they plunge into the surf and return without the groom. Couples divide up to find him, and before dawn breaks, they discover a lot of dull secrets about their darker sides that would be hard to see with a flashlight. The all-night orgy of stupidity that ensues is so contrived that instead of examining friendships and love, it only made me wish they had all drowned, saving us from 95 minutes of wooden, boring and inconsequential embarrassment.
It was written and directed without a megabyte of pace, rhythm, intelligence or fresh observation by Galt Niederhoffer, whose only talent appears to be talking otherwise talented people like Ms. Paquin, Mr. Duhamel, Adam Brody, Elijah Wood, Jeremy Strong and Dianna Agron into making fools of themselves for money (and from the cheesy, grainy look of it all, there wasn’t much of that to spare). Empty dialogue, clumsy camera angles and acting that can only be described as hysterical uncertainty don’t add up to much pleasure.
Rarely have so many people been so misguided. Ms. Holmes is trying hard to sharpen her acting chops, but she still comes off like a bus-and-truck Michelle Williams. And if at all possible, do spare yourself the horror of seeing with your own eyes what has become of Candice Bergen in the role of the waspy, washed-out mother of the bride. She’s played obnoxious, overbearing, baggy-eyed matrons before, but the one thing she has never been able to do in her checkered acting career is hide her perception. When a script, role or movie she’s in stinks on ice, she smells it and it shows. Her range has always been narrow, but she’s a smart cookie, so doesn’t she know enough by now to hide her disgust? She should sue the cinematographer.
Come to think of it, so should Jonathan Demme. There is nothing vaguely romantic about The Romantics. With its poorly chosen pop songs, its almost shameful copying of wedding party clichés and its frantic cross-cutting between vignettes, the whole thing comes off like a witless rip-off of Mr. Demme’s hilarious, innovative, colorful and profoundly touching 2008 wedding pastiche, Rachel Getting Married. And nothing in it reaches the heights of Jenny Lumet’s rich, complex screenplay for that gem. Instead of originality, The Romantics recycles the same material with a lot of noise masquerading as style, and no substance whatsoever, producing a grotesquerie of caricatures from central casting that are dead on arrival.
Running time 95 minutes
Written and directed by Galt Niederhoffer
Starring Anna Paquin, Katie Holmes, Josh Duhamel, Adam Brody, Elijah Wood, Jeremy Strong and Dianna Agron