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The New Romantics

Comedy's tone stumbles at times due to one onscreen mismatch

By Cristina Merrill / Jester correspondent

“The Romantics,” a (of course) romantic comedy opening in theaters Sept. 10, is a quirky look at misguided pairings that is undone at times by its casting and failure of some leads to generate chemistry.

The title refers to a group of college friends who have called themselves “The Romantics” because they dated each other, and some are going to marry. The story opens with the group reuniting for the wedding of Tom (Josh Duhamel) and Lila (Anna Paquin). The complication is that Tom and Laura (Katie Holmes) used to date and still have feelings for each other.

When Tom wanders off the night before the wedding, that sets off efforts to find him by the group, albeit at a slow pace allowing time to explore the emotions and connections between the leads and some supporting players. The resonance of all this, however, is sunk by a lack of chemistry between Duhamel and Holmes.  Duhamel, a young Hollywood hunk, surprisingly is believable as a brooding English literature doctorate student. Though Holmes seems more comfortable in familiar territory as a romantic interest, but with Duhamel, there are no sparks.

It’s Paquin who gets to indulge in a more compelling characterization as Lila, whose stoic, put-together exterior belies a bride in turmoil, prone to breakdowns. One of the best moments of the film is when she screams at her younger sister, who accidentally tore her wedding dress while trying it on, and chases her around the house.

Rounding out “The Romantics” are Rebecca Lawrence, Jeremy Strong, Malin Akerman and Adam Brody (who showed his comedic skills in “The Ten” (see review, 1/29/08). In another pairing, Strong, a screen newcomer, in the role of Pete, a laid-back, fun-loving guy, is the perfect complement to Lawrence’s quieter Weesie. Their scenes together are fun to watch and believable. Their characters discover the most about each other. Akerman, understandably, has been frequently cast in Pretty Girl-type roles, so it is refreshing to see her play Tripler, an aspiring actress with a fun, edgy, and slightly dark side. She steals almost every scene she is in, especially the ones she has with Brody. This time, however, Brody is the straight man, holding his own, but not reaching the edgy heights that Akerman does.

Aside from these couples, “The Romantics” also gets some assists from Candice Bergen, playing Paquin’s mother; Dianna Agron of “Glee” as Paquin’s sister, and Elijah Wood as Paquin’s creepy cousin, Chip, who is also after Katie Holmes’ character.

But back to the main issue with “The Romantics” – the chemistry of Holmes and Duhamel. They are great in other scenes but not together. Even when arguing, they don’t radiate sexual tension or chemistry that might make them believable as a couple. Lines like “You inspire me” in their scenes are hard to believe. The dialogue they are given isn’t as well written as other scenes in the movie. And aside from this, they even quote cringe-worthy poetry to each other.

Despite the one miscast and misguided pairing, all the other performances and parts of the story make “The Romantics” worth catching. It is, at different times, heavy and light. The soundtrack and score also make it lively. The filmmakers do have an overall message in mind, and that is: not every love story gets resolved and maybe that’s for the best.




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