This soulless slick piece of sickly-sweet cinematic candy somehow manages to embody everything that’s wrong with Hollywood, and America. Like the average American boob, it is a bloated corn-fed monstrosity obsessed with appearances and celebrity, devoid of introspection, and in search of anything—love, alcohol, chocolate, you name it—that will fill the hole where the soul used to be and stave off the negative feelings for a few more hours.
I saw it the other night on a date; the girl I went with, whom I met on eHarmony, is a girl-movie kind of girl, and it was the only thing with a start time that worked for us, so I went for it. And, I have to admit, I was entertained, but mostly in a sick Plan-9-From-Outer-Space-How-Bad-Can-It-Be? way. (And in an Oh-my-God-how-much-eye-candy-can-I-eat-in-one-sitting? way.) But it feels ridiculous even making the former comparison, because there are far too many reasonably talented people involved to have any excuse for making a movie this bad.
It seems less like a movie than an exercise in moviemaking, like someone in Hollywood wanted to find out how many A-list stars they could cram into one movie while giving everyone an equal amount of screen time and tying all their stories together. (Of course, this is not done by creating interactions with real emotional heft and weight, but by throwing in a few lines of dialogue here and there, so you find yourself saying, “Oh, she’s the babysitter” and “She’s the mom,” and so on and so forth as the barely-sketched and paper-thin characters shuffle listlessly past one another.) It’s as if they were trying to make Magnolia with three times the star power but 1/100th of the brain power. Or, better yet, trying to Americanize Love Actually, but at the expense of making it—unbelievably—even more ridiculous and absurd, with characters that are even less nuanced. (Actually, on second thought, calling these characters paper-thin implies that they have some shape. In actuality, they’re more like pipe cleaners; they only approach two-dimensionality because this plot and this movie bend them every which way and then project their images onto a flat screen.)
In some ways, this is what we, as a nation, deserve. There’s so little on which we can agree that many spheres of human activity are practically off-limits for anyone trying to make mass-market entertainment. (For a few brief months after 9/11, we were in agreement on the whole War-on-Terror thing, but the Bush Administration’s general idiocy and incompetence pissed that away; for a few months in 2008—basically from the first moment Sarah Palin opened her mouth onward—a lot of us agreed about the whole Obama thing, but that consensus is falling apart, too.) Even earning money seems a little passe these days, what with the mortgage meltdown and all. So politics and war are pretty much untouchable (aside from movies like The Hurt Locker that depoliticize the political), and we’ve woken up from the American Dream, so all we really have as a source of national identity is this overblown notion of the importance of romantic love.
Still, do the characters in this movie pursue that in a reasonable way? No. They chase after it like cracked-out Black Friday shoppers elbowing each other to grab the last PS3 at Target. They do ridiculous things like flying to San Francisco to pursue one romance and then, when the target is found to be a cheating scumbag, flying back, pretending to be a waitress to publicly humiliate him in front of his wife, and then ending up in the arms of a best friend who had THAT VERY SAME DAY proposed to a long-term girlfriend who had subsequently rejected him. That may seem like a lot of plot to give away in a review, but it isn’t, really; this movie telegraphs more punches than Samuel Morse doing a play-by-play of a Jack Dempsey fight. (Author’s aside: I like that sentence so much I’m not even going to do a cursory Wikipedia search to find out if it’s historically plausible.)
At any rate, I—a moviegoer who normally respects the sanctity of the theater—found myself shouting at the screen here and there, as if trying to yell back in time and alert the “screenwriters” to their own absurdity; my date, who professed to love rom-coms, charitably rated it a 5 out of 10; and someone in the seat behind me fell asleep and actually snored through much of the latter half of the film—an action which would have ruined many other movies, but could not possibly degrade this piece of eye candy corn any more than it had already degraded itself.