A Lot Like Love Movie Review

Until its out-of-character finale abandons wit, creativityand contagious chemistry in favor of contrived misunderstandings that stinkof a studio-mandated rewrite, "A Lot Like Love" is a deliciouslyfresh, ingenuous and beguiling romantic comedy.

Structured similarly to "When Harry Met Sally,"with its fated couple crossing paths every few years without the romanticpieces quite falling into place, the movie opens "7 years ago,"with meek, shaggy-haired, 20-ish Oliver (Ashton Kutcher) watching fromafar as a magnetically temperamental proto-punk named Emily (Amanda Peet)has a blow-up with a boyfriend who is dropping her off at Los Angeles InternationalAirport.

While waiting for the same flight to New York, these twoexchange long stares (his dumbstruck and smitten but empathetic, hers asad but indignant "what are you lookin' at?!") that establishilluminating layers of humor and character without a single word of dialogue.In this one tacit scene, Peet delivers on the promise of all her sublimesupporting performances (in movies like "TheWhole Nine Yards," "IgbyGoes Down" and "Something'sGotta Give"), and Kutcher ("That '70sShow," "GuessWho?") reveals a hitherto unrealized depthand charm.

Then during the flight, on a whim of newly unfettered lust,Emily follows Oliver into the airliner's tiny bathroom and jumps his bones.

She intends this "mile high club" tryst to bea one-off encounter, but she keeps bumping into Oliver at similarly vulnerablemoments in her life. Of course, there always seems to be something preventingthem from spending more than one or two days together, as when they meetagain in L.A. a few years later: She's now a struggling actress and he'smoving out of his mother's house for the first time to start a dot-comin San Francisco. (Uh-oh.)

The hard-to-contain besotted smirks, knowing glances, andplayful, sexually charged whimsy that sparkles between Peet and Kutcher-- as they stare each other down in the airport or hook up for a singleNew Year's Eve -- is something that cannot be scripted. It's the magicof perfect casting and inspired performances.

But that's not to say "A Lot Like Love" doesn'thave snappy writing. Actor-turned writer Colin Patrick Lynch provides astutebut authentic wittiness, many unique yet familiar moments (a spontaneousroad trip episode is one of the movie's best), and inconspicuously poignantlayers of character (the death of Emily's mom some time ago plays a momentaryrole in the evolution of the relationship).

British director Nigel Cole ("CalendarGirls," &q=uot;Saving Grace") finds just the right punch andpace for the movie's underlying comedy, and makes interesting choices forfilming (New York scenes take place not at postcard locales, but at, say,a basketball court in Chinatown). But he's smart enough to know when tojust roll the camera and get out of the way of his talented cast, whichincludes supporting roles by underappreciated talents like Kal Penn ("Haroldand Kumar Go to White Castle"), KathrynHahn (the bartender in "WinA Date With Tad Hamilton!") and Taryn Manning("8 Mile," "crazy/beautiful").

Even the makeup and wardrobe are perfect. In the openingscene, Kutcher and Peet genuinely look like 20-year-olds from the early'90s, not like actors dressed up to look younger than they are.

But then comes that pivotal moment when it all goes south.The last 10 minutes of "A Lot Like Love" are relentlessly unoriginal-- driven by four clumsy, conspicuous clich=E9s and a transparently artificialtwist that is an insult to the characters' intelligence and a betrayalof the movie's structure.

This nose-dive cannot dampen the irresistible glimmer betweenPeet and Kutcher that gives the movie its vivacity, but it does beg thequestion: What was the original climax of this clever, charismatic comedy,and at what point in the filmmaking process was it changed? I'm hopingthere's a completed original ending hidden away at Touchstone Pictures,waiting to be restored as a bonus feature on the DVD.


Comments

A Lot Like Love Rating

" OK "

Rating: PG-13, WIDE: Friday, April 22, 2005

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