REVIEW: Wedding Crasher Katie Holmes Can't Save The Romantics
There's a moment very early in The Romantics when something deeply, inadvertently unsettling transpires. Katie Holmes, as Laura, sits alone in a room rehearsing her toast for that night's wedding rehearsal dinner. She looks up in thought, stammers out a few platitudes, then looks down, talking to herself, exasperated and vaguely put-upon. "Dear God," you think, "she's channeling Tom Cruise."
It's only natural for someone to emulate elements of her spouse's speech patterns and expressions, and it's unfair to make too much of it simply because one's spouse happens to be a famous movie star. But the mannerisms and phrasings that Holmes mimics -- call it strenuous naturalism -- are so recognizably Cruise that instead of establishing Laura's inner conflict she lets the strange life of Katie Holmes (Scientologist starlet, Suri momma, and Cruise-candy) slip onto the screen. The moment passes quickly, and is followed by Holmes's reversion to the same mildly appealing, flushed cherub we've long known, while the film gets on with its mostly unappealing tour through the similarly familiar disenchantments of fledgling adulthood.
In Galt Niederhoffer's adaptation of her own novel, seven post-college friends convene for schematic reckonings over a seaside wedding weekend. Prim Lila (Anna Paquin) is marrying sexily disheveled Tom (Josh Duhamel), who still pines for his ex-girlfriend, Laura (Holmes), who was also Lila's former college roommate and current maid of honor. Party girl Tripler (Malin Akerman), her wise-cracking partner Pete (Jeremy Strong), straight-laced Weesie (Rebecca Lawrence) and her mopey-cute partner Jake (Adam Brody) round out the self-proclaimed Romantics, an incestuous clique still toking on notions of emotional and sexual freedom faintly derived from the poetry of Wordsworth, Byron, et al. Several years have passed since graduation, and the wedding affords them all a chance to reconnect, take stock of their lives, and reconfigure.
While maintaining a day-into-night-into-day chronological integrity, Niederhoffer and DP Sam Levy shoot action shaky-cam style to roughen the edges and evoke that happened-upon, Rachel Getting Married aesthetic. Like Jonathan Demme's film, The Romantics starts gathering steam at a boozy rehearsal dinner as each of the main characters gives a toast, one more ill-advised than the next -- Elijah Wood, as the mischievous brother of the bride, cartoonishly slurs and cackles like a child who doesn't really know what it's like to be intoxicated -- culminating with Laura's well-meaning oration, which she mars by nervously inserting her own name for Lila's. The bride-to-be stalks off to her room to sulk, primp, and wait out the inevitable storm. The Romantics are soon stumbling and singing over the wide lawns of the beachside estate, with Tom and Laura circling each other like moody Victorians across a heath.
Evoking the poets of the group's namesake, brooding Tom erupts with an impromptu speech on the beach, challenging his friends "to inspire and be inspired," before jumping into the ocean and disappearing. The others strip and dip as well, then splinter into search parties to find the missing groom, beginning a protracted evening of illicit conversation and snogging. The two couples switch partners for the search while Laura goes it alone, a heat-seeker for eleventh-hour drama. Though it's apparent that carousing is imminent, Niederhoffer dithers, cross-cutting between flirtations and unnecessary subplots (Lila's little sister rips her wedding dress while her high-maintenance mother, played by Candice Bergen, worries over the weather) and seriously testing the audience's patience.
When Laura finds Tom hiding behind a tree, their parry finally reveals the depth of their love, loss, and conflict. They're too alike, too volatile, leading Tom to choose the stability and reserve (and perhaps also the inheritance) of drippy Lila over stormy Laura. "Boring is better than maddening," he insists. "Yeah," she responds, more stubborn child than inflamed romantic, "well I'd rather die of excitement." Making Laura and Tom 21st century corollaries of 19th century literary characters, Niederhoffer allows for the absurdities and immaturities of such a comparison but still wills an emotional legitimacy that's torpedoed by dialogue simultaneously pretentious and regressive. Tom later holds aloft an iPhone illuminated by Keats's "Ode to a Nightingale" as he trots toward Laura, referencing John Cusack's boombox moment in Say Anything without approaching its pathos -- both because Cameron Crowe's film builds to its moment in a way that Niederhoffer's doesn't, and because bleeding-hearted teens are infinitely more sympathetic than stunted, sentimental adults.
The good news is that the young, attractive actors in The Romantics acquit themselves in spite of the fact that -- here's the bad news -- they're playing variably repellent characters. Duhamel's bland, self-satisfied dude-ness (he's too good-looking for a comb or shave) is offset by both Holmes and Paquin, each of whom project different versions of worthiness onto his former-model visage. Paquin suggests a sympathetic person beneath the shrew and Holmes a selfish schemer beneath the heroine, while Akerman and Brody hold the screen nicely during inane, coke-spiked exchanges. But Niederhoffer invades these and most every scene with brightly melancholic pop in the Dido-Feist mold, drowning dialogue and forcing the narrative along when it might be better served by lingering. In the end, the director chooses a clever literary conclusion that betrays the film's docu-realist aesthetic, revealing that she means no critique here: we're actually meant to marinate in all this romanticism, and hear the incessantly bandied about language of "inspiration" as something other than facile infantilism.