We’re at a moment when a cohort of actors who cut their teeth in hipster-friendly projects like Party Down and the Frat Pack movies are coming of age. Whether it’s Lizzy Caplan’s emergence as a viable romantic comedy star thanks to her wonderful turn on New Girl; or Adam Scott’s Parks and Recreation-minted heartthrob status; the wave of goodwill Jason Segel is riding right now after his successful reboot of the Muppts franchise; or Aaron Paul’s search for the role that will take him beyond his turn as morally conflicted meth cooker Jesse Pinkman in Breaking Bad, these actors are all starring in romantic comedies this year. It’s fascinating to see what, if anything, is different about this well-worn trope as taken on by actors less invested in traditional Hollywood glamor than in self-lacerating humor. Mostly it seems that they’re just as invested in marriage and commitment as prior generations, but the obstacles to their happiness are different.
For the younger set, there’s Damsels in Distress, a decidedly odd-looking comedy about a group of college girls (played by actresses way too old for the setting) out to save their classmates from the scourges of depression and cads with donuts and tap-dancing. The movie’s quirky enough that I can’t tell if there’s an abstinence metaphor or there will be an abstinence subplot here. But there’s still something interesting about a college sex comedy framed around a very different framework and with characters who have very different priorities:
Then, there’s Save the Date, which doesn’t have a formal trailer yet, but is one of the movies from Sundance that’s stuck with me most closely. Alison Brie and Lizzy Caplan play sisters Beth and Sarah, the former about to get engaged to Andrew (Martin Starr) a drummer in a rock band, the latter shaken by an unexpected proposal from Kevin (Geoffrey Arend), the frontman for that same band. When Sarah breaks up with Kevin, she embarks on casual relationship that turns into something more serious. To a certain extent, it’s a movie with very conventional themes: love can show up at surprising times! Marriages are more important than weddings! But it’s interesting to see those themes play out in a setting and with semi-bohemian characters who might have rejected marriage in another generation of movies:
Bridesmaids let it be known that sometimes women go a little crazy in the process of planning a wedding, even when they’re happy for the bride. Bachelorette, which also stars Caplan along with Kirsten Dunst and Isla Fisher apparently goes much darker, exposing a group of women who get decidedly vicious when the least conventionally attractive of their number gets engaged before they do. I’ll be curious to see if the movie is honest in its darkness or an occasion to paint all women as catty, status-obsessed, jealous, and willing to tear each other up:
The premise of The Five-Year Engagement makes no real sense: it’s not remotely clear why, when Emily Blunt’s career takes her to Michigan, she and her fiancee, played by Jason Segel, couldn’t just get married and make their life there? But I am curious to see Segel’s character make the sacrifices that a prior generation of women had to make if they moved for their husband’s careers:
Then, there’s Friends With Kids, a riff on the recent crop of professional-ladies-having-babies-with-friends-or-anonymous-donors movie, but starring Jennifer Westfeldt instead of Jennifer Aniston or Jennifer Lopez. The fact that Adam Scott is co-starring along with her doesn’t make it any more charming when his character picks up Megan Fox, who is 13 years younger than he is and clearly in the movie to make Westfeldt’s character anxious. Unconventional family arrangements can still founder on stale gender tropes:
Smashed may be the most genuinely original movie in the bunch, if only because it’s the rare film, Hollywood or otherwise, about the end of a relationship rather than the beginning of it. It’s also the rare movie in which an actress, in this case, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, is allowed to go to some genuinely dark and uncomfortable places: