Two quick illustrations are necessary at the outset to convey my extreme distaste for the turgid, unwatchable train wreck that is London, the first film from writer/director Hunter Richards, who should receive some kind of punishment for crafting such a stupid and irredeemable tale. The first illustration is a party I went to about a year ago. I didn’t really go to the party as much as had it happen to me; it was held at my apartment and thrown by my now-former roommate. Before I could say “rampant pseudo-intellectualism,” my apartment was filled with people I didn’t know who put a lot of effort into looking like they hadn’t put a lot of effort into their outfits, and who knew far too much about wine. They rambled endlessly. I fell into a bottle of Jack and knew no more, happy for the comfort of the blackness that saved me from involving myself in another conversation with someone who sounded like they just got the notes from Psych 101. The second illustration is “The Real World”: Randomly assembled, attractive, not-very-bright people, all talking and talking and talking and trying to work out relationships without recognizing their inherent, you know, stupidity. Perpetually intoxicated alpha males with furrowed brows, mixed with rail-thin girls with personalities like rabid wolves, all acting like knowing nothing means knowing something. This is the setting, tone, and inevitable undoing of London: A party full of high, foolish young people, which serves as a backdrop for an angry young man to try and get back the girl he lost, presumably by whining his way into her life. It won’t work on her, and it doesn’t work on us, either. From start to finish, London is an unforgivable exercise in grating, irritating, and downright awful filmmaking.
Syd (Chris Evans) wakes up wasted in his wreck of an apartment to a phone call: His ex, London (Jessica Biel), is leaving town that night. There’s even a going-away party that Syd didn’t know about. He responds to this news as most would, I guess: He breaks his table, throws furniture, and shatters his aquarium. This is a pretty risky way for Richards to introduce us to what we’ll assume to be the main character, and this beginning isn’t a fluke: Things go from bad to worse with remarkable speed. Syd’s a contemptible boor with severe emotional issues, which may be an accurate way to sum up a lot of twentysomethings, but that doesn’t make it worthwhile to spend time with them, or a good idea to make your main character as big a jerk as he could be in real life.
On the way to the party, Syd swings by a bar tended by Mallory (Joy Bryant), a skinny and empty-headed young woman who’ll be attending the party. Syd’s actually there to sell some extra blow to Bateman (Jason Statham), a button-down businessman with a penchant for visiting S&M clubs. Syd persuades Bateman to go with him to the party, held nearby at the apartment of Becca (Isla Fisher, of Wedding Crashers), another pretty young girl who hates Syd. Syd, needless to say, doesn’t do much to change her opinion, and will over the course of the night spill coke all over her bathroom and start a pretty large fight. But that’s later. For now, Syd and Bateman arrive at the party and head to the upstairs bathroom, a claustrophobic, mirror-laden room where most of the story unfolds. Bateman and Syd get to snorting, and away we go.
Syd’s relationship with London is played out in flashbacks: flirting, fighting, screwing, fighting, etc. London, it turns out, is more than a little slutty, and perfectly willing to pursue other men while professing her love to Syd. Syd, meanwhile, is the kind of jealous hothead who would freak out even if London weren’t a duplicitous heartbreaker, so her legitimate infidelities send him into overload. It’s like watching a happy drunk and an angry drunk get into a whirlwind of a brawl; horrible, but not that surprising.
In addition to his petty jealousies, London also can’t stand Syd’s ego, to which he usually replies that it’s not ego if he’s genuinely smarter than everyone. Syd is prone to falsely intelligent statements like “God is a fairy tale for adults who can’t handle death” or “I need scientific proof to support this religion”; even ignoring the internally contradictory nature of his statements, his ramblings still come off as pretentious as that guy who tells you to read The Fountainhead because dude, it’ll totally change your life.
In between Syd and London’s fights we’re treated to Syd and Bateman’s interchange in the bathroom, where Bateman does his best not to look like a chaperone for the youngsters’ party and Syd cries, whines, does a line, cries, whines, does a line, cries …
There’s nothing wrong with a melodramatic 21-year-old guy losing it over the end of what he thinks is the best relationship in history; it’s pretty much par for the course. But Richards doesn’t distance himself from the material enough to show that he knows better, like, for instance, Stephen Frears did with High Fidelity. In that movie, John Cusack’s Rob Gordon remarks of a past relationship, “Only people of a certain disposition are frightened of being alone for the rest of their lives at 26. We were of that disposition.” Frears grounded a specific age and mindset but also showed the existence of brighter future. But Richards isn’t smart enough to guide his characters to a better life, so they just run in circles and whine and fight and make the most out of nothing. It’s actually worse than watching “The Real World”: It’s like being trapped inside “The Real World,” and it’s horrible.
Syd takes most of the film to actually work up the courage to leave the bathroom and talk to London, and when he finally sees her, she’s talking to a random guy at the party. It’s Dane Cook, appearing in a bit role and getting off a few one-liners but never really allowed to open it up and get funny. I perked up when I saw him on screen, but except for one good joke (“What are you drinking? Bottle of cockblocker?” to Syd as he steals London’s attention), his presence here is absolutely wasted. It’s an inexplicable and stupid choice, like casting Edward Norton as a busboy with two lines.
Syd finally gets London alone to talk about their failed relationship, but at this point even the most generous viewer has gone from numb to comatose. It’s a shame, too, because there’s a decent story idea at the root of the film: the girl’s last night in town, the guy’s last night to get her back, a party, hijinks, etc. Kind of like Can’t Hardly Wait with cocaine. Unfortunately, Richards is too in love with his own worthless dialogue to do anything like, you know, progress the plot. Things just happen, and then the film’s over. There’s no redeeming value, no one to care about, and not a single enjoyable thing about the story. Really not much of a party.
Daniel Carlson is the L.A. critic for Pajiba and a copy editor for a Hollywood industry magazine. You can visit his weblog, Slowly Going Bald.London / Daniel Carlson
Film | May 12, 2006 | Comments ()