Unrequited love has often made for fine films. The lustful longing for an unobtainable romance creates tension and drama that often translate brilliantly on screen but can leave an audience feeling hollow and unfulfilled. In Galt Niederhoffer’s The Romantics the questionable conclusion of the narrative might not satisfy your need for a definitive finale but then again the film doesn’t give you much to be satisfied with in the first place.
I say this because although there is a youthful energy to the film (mostly due to its peppy soundtrack and popular cast) and enough sexual innuendo to keep you from falling asleep there’s nothing particularly enjoyable about the characters (or their actions for that matter) that navigate the rather austere story which mostly takes place over the course of one night the eve of Tom (Josh Duhamel) and Lila’s (Anna Paquin) wedding. The pair is far from the perfect couple: she’s a bit neurotic and dependent on everyone in her life while he’s still in love with ex-girlfriend Laura (Katie Holmes) the maid of honor and “best friend” of the bride. Also in attendance are Pete (Jeremy Strong) and Tripler (Malin Akerman) a vibrant couple who pseudo-swing with Jake (Adam Brody) and Weesie (Rebecca Lawrence) before the night is out collectively testing the strengths of their respective relationships. Elijah Wood’s Chip the brother of the bride is in fact the most empathetic person in the picture though he too is not without fault (his privileged upbringing has made him an acerbic alcoholic).
Character flaws aside the filmmaking itself is suitable if simple. Produced in the spirit of the ensemble dramas of yesteryear The Romantics has bright and bleak moments that play well enough off of one another. Like Hannah and Her Sisters and The Big Chill there are plenty of rocky relationships to explore which lead to most of the movie’s comical moments. Unfortunately its characters aren’t developed as thoroughly as they are in Woody Allen’s and Lawrence Kasdan’s acclaimed works and you’re left feeling confused as to why director Niederhoffer spent time on them in the first place. Without question the best scenes in the film are those dedicated to the Tom and Laura who exchange emotions share erotic memories of one another and engage in some heavy petting before the sun rises. Both Duhamel and (especially) Holmes display depth deserving of meatier roles and I hope that they can get them in the future.
If there’s one complaint above any other that I’ve got about The Romantics it’s that the self-important players are never held accountable for their actions. Their carefree incendiary lifestyles are never checked and that along with the filmmaker’s intention of leaving the story open-ended render the closing events of the story anti-climactic and even frustrating. When Tom looks up to a stormy sky as his bride-to-be runs from the coming rainfall he revels in the moment by boisterously screaming. I too felt the need to scream as the credits started to roll but for entirely different reasons.