If romantic comedies were easy, Hollywood would be churning them out like comic book adaptations. But they aren’t.
That magical blend of wit, warmth, chemistry and comedy evades pretty much everybody who sets out to make the perfect “date movie.” The droughts between good ones can last years.
So there’s no dishonor in taking a shot at the real L-word with “No Stranger Than Love.” It aims for the heart, but misses. It reaches for existential but never manages much more than “twee.”
This rom-com starts with great promise and a great premise. Lucy (Alison Brie of TV’s “Community”) is The Town Catch. Everybody, and I do mean EVERYbody pines for Miss Lucy.
One of her art students (Dylan Everett) at Spot Valley High is full of come-on anecdotes about how much older Josephine was than Napoleon. The principal at her school tugs her into a supply closet to propose that they run off to Uganda together.
A nerdy English teacher (Mark Forward) foists books on her and probably writes her poetry.
Even the town drunk (Paul Fateux) makes his pitch in the parking lot after school.
“When you see me from now on, could you look a little deeper?”
She’s the daughter of the mayor, three-time Queen of the Jamboree, so even the garbage men flirt with her and an over-eager cop is in the habit of pulling her twee baby blue Chevette over to ask for a date.
“It is against the law…to look THAT good!”
But it looks like Lucy has made her choice — in secret. That’s how she and Coach Clint Coburn (Colin Hanks) meet, because he’s married. They may have something, though she’s a bit “frugal” about using the word “love.”
They’re just about to consummate when a huge hole opens in her living room floor and Clint drops into the dark void. They can talk, but she can’t see him and he has no idea what manner of limbo he’s tumbled into.
“No Stranger Than Love” doesn’t quite fall off a cliff with Clint, but almost. Interest fades as things turn predictable and dull.
Lucy takes off to find somebody who can keep a secret and give her a hand figuring this out and rescuing Clint from the abyss. And that’s where she meets the dark-jacketed, stubbled, I-Wear-My-Sunglasses-at-Night stranger, played by Justin Chatwin of TV’s “Shameless”. The new guy in town is looking for Clint.
Nothing that follows is the least bit interesting — not Lucy’s “girls’ group” confessional gabfests, not the stranger’s quest (he is smitten, too), not Lucy’s half-hearted search for the meaning of why a hole would open in the floor and take her would-be lover out of reach, not the search for the missing Clint nor Clint’s wife’s distress at what her husband might have been up to.
Brie doesn’t set off sparks with Hanks, which is exactly the point, and sets off even fewer with Chatwin, which isn’t.
Love the set-up, appreciate the nice dimensions Brie and screenwriter Steve Adams give Lucy in the film’s opening. But there’s precious little in the performance or the character’s inner life to justify a whole town’s love. Lust, maybe.
Lucy isn’t as desirable as she’s set up to be, the town “characters” aren’t particularly funny, and “No Stranger Than Love” just isn’t as romantic or fantastical as the romantic fantasy it wants to be.
There’s a big hole in the middle of the movie, too.
MPAA Rating : R for language
Cast: Alison Brie, Justin Chatwin, Colin Hanks
Credits: Directed by Nick Wernham, script by Steve Adams. A Momentum/eOne release.
Running time: 1:27