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May 13, 2006 |

By Dustin Rowles | Film | May 13, 2006 |

A Lot Like Love is part Nora Ephron, part Richard Linklater, and part Hollywood focus group; unfortunately, it’s the latter ingredient that nearly derails what would have otherwise been a sweet romantic comedy. Having gained a modicum of familiarity with the backroom dealings involved in movie production from my vast experience watching “Project Greenlight,” I can envision the transformation that A Lot Like Love likely traversed from an edgy, somewhat conventional indie romantic comedy along the lines of a heterosexual Kissing Jessica Stein meets When Harry Met Sally into another Hollywood-manufactured vehicle for Ashton Kutcher. I’m sure Mr. Head-of-the-Studio Suit thought, “Wow, this is a charming little screenplay, nothing fancy, nothing overly pretentious. By damn, we can work with this.” And then he looked around at his minions and asked “Hmmm. How can we completely muck this up so that only suburban teenage girls will tolerate it?” And a round of hands probably shot up, and Mr. Sycophant Suit called out, “Oooh. Oooh. I know! I know! Let’s cast Kelso,” which was naturally met with chorus of cheers and backslaps.

It’s a shame, too, because first-time screenwriter Colin Patrick Lynch seems to have a knack for avoiding the sentimental, and English director Nigel Cole (Calendar Girls) was at least competent enough to make a movie that didn’t look like another overly glossy commercial production. But Gawd! Ashton Kutcher?! Please, folks. Even Say Anything would have suffered beneath the weight of that shit-eating smirk, which Kutcher flashes in any and all instances, regardless of what’s going on in the script. Neither tender moments nor heart-wrenching break up scenes seem immune to that curled-up grin, a smile that begs to be wiped away, by violent means if necessary.

A Lot Like Love follows Oliver (Kutcher) and Emily (Amanda Peet), who first meet, seven years ago, in an airplane bathroom, where the two acrobatically bump uglies before introductions have even been disposed of. From there, they jaunt around New York City, get loaded, and share some small intimacies, leading us into Before Sunrise territory, at least briefly, before steering us back into your standard multiplex romantic experience.

As the years progress, Oliver joins the dot-com world, where he sells diapers online, and Emily passes through the many phases of young adulthood, from slacker to aspiring actress to successful photographer. Expectedly, their paths cross several times, leading to a series of brief rendezvous, which aren’t allowed to bloom into full-blown relationships due to either geography or simple circumstance, though their encounters are refreshing tinged with a nice bit of melancholy, an almost unheard-of emotion for romantic comedies.

Though the coincidences that bring them together often strain credibility, their encounters are surprisingly sweet and charming. The two build genuine chemistry, providing A Lot Like Love with some actual sentiment, thanks chiefly to Lynch’s remarkable ear and Peet’s natural likability . Oliver and Emily are believable together, articulating things to one another that real couples might actually say; it’s just a damned shame that it’s Kutcher who has to act as mouthpiece. Peet, on the other hand, gives her performance perhaps more than what is deserved in an Ashton Kutcher film. To a lesser degree, she ingratiates herself in much the same way that Kate Winslet’s character did in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: She’s wistful and quirky while being capable — with a simple look — of breaking your heart.

Unfortunately, from the ridiculous title, to the decision to cast Kutcher (Zach Braff would’ve been the ideal choice), to the scenes obviously manufactured for movie trailers, it is those focus-group elements in A Lot Like Love that keep it from rising too far above conventional rom-coms. Still, I’m almost ashamed to admit it, but the understated, deft, not-too-clever writing and Amanda Peet’s performance (plus a few choice soundtrack selections) made A Lot Like Love a lot like a pretty decent film.

Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba and managing partner of its parent co

A Lot Like Love / Dustin Rowles

Film | May 13, 2006 |

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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