Movie Review: Even lovers of a certain age are capable of “A Grand Romantic Gesture”

“A Grand Romantic Gesture” is a wistful romance in a minor key, a flash of “love, the second (or maybe last) time around” with no flash at all.

It’s always a shame when a romantic comedy with characters who aren’t teenagers falls short, doubly-so when it’s a rom-com built around a clever conceit — two 50something amateurs cast as the leads in a suburban Canadian workshop production of “Romeo & Juliet.”

They’re shoved on stage, try to start their lines, and our Juliet giggles self-consciously, and speaks for them and us and anybody not soaking wet behind the ears when she protests, “I don’t REMEMBER being young!”

British character lead Gina McKee (“Notting Hill,””In the Loop”) is the newly-laid off Ava, bums-rushed into taking a cooking class by a husband (Rob Stewart) and married and pregnant daughter (Rose Reynolds) who talk as if she isn’t even in the room as they plan her unwanted “retirement” for her.

Her rage-whisking her ingredients tells one and all that class isn’t for her. But she’s conned into joining this other adult ed class down the hall, the one with a pretentious ditz (Gregory Ambrose Calderone) director who would rather have two people he figures are the right age for the priest and the nurse as his leads than have his girlfriend fall in love with the dude he’s cast as Romeo.

Thus, Simon (Douglas Hodge of “The Great” and “Joker”) is paired up with Ava, and Shakespeare’s poetry and the romance of it all gets the better of them. Well, him first.

“Give me my sin again,” he reads, and lays one on her, smack dab on the lips.

“No MAKING OUT on the stage,” director Ryan protests as Ava recoils. But boy, does that smooch get her thinking. And dreaming. And imagining.

As her daughter’s life comes a bit undone and she moves back home, as Ava keeps the fact that she changed classes and isn’t learning to cook as her first secret, all gets far more complicated as the leads start to develop feelings for each other, on and off the stage.

Writer-director Joan Carr-Wiggin breaks up this longish/slow-building rom-com with snippets from the play as intertitles — “Tempt not a desperate man,” “A Madness most discrete,” etc.

She further breaks up the continuity with testimonials/confessions to the camera, what look like counseling sessions for Ava, Simon and Simon’s wife Roz (Linda Kash).

“Marriage isn’t for sissies. Rule Number One? You want to stay married, don’t fall in love with someone else.”

I like the leads and their “Should we/should we not” chemistry, even in the low-speed, flatly-shot conversations that point them towards love. And the dizzy daughter and her dizzy marriage (Dylan Llewellyn plays her puppet-obsessed flake of a husband) plays as dopey cute.

But “A Grand Romantic Gesture” botches such gestures, the few attempted, and never produces a stand-out moment that tugs at the heart or tickles the funny bone. A random amusing line here and there is about all we’re left with. A self-absorbed young woman bumps and brushes by Simon and Ava, which the native Brit feels is out of character.

“That wasn’t very CANADIAN of her!”

Not enough is made of the difference between the “acting” part of the romance, and the “real” part. Stumbling towards a psychological explanation for their behavior is a scripted afterthought.

That, coupled with the deflating nature of the “gestures,” with nothing “grand” or particularly “romantic” about any of them, leaves this Canadian comedy dead on the page before it dies on the stage.

Rating: unrated, profanity, adult situations

Cast: Gina McKee, Douglas Hodge, Rose Reynolds, Linda Kash, Dylan Llewellyn, Rob Stewart

Credits: Scripted and directed by Joan Carr-Wiggin. A Gravitas Ventures release.

Running time: 1:48

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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