critics hate, I adore: The Romantics

The Romantics is a film based on the book by Galt Niederhoffer (note to self – read!), who also directs. It boasts an awesome cast led by Josh Duhamel, Katie Holmes and Anna Paquin, who are the center characters immeshed in an ongoing love/lust triangle. The film takes place over the course of one night at the seaside wedding of Tom (Duhamel) and Lila (Paquin). The ensemble cast are all tightly-knit Yale grads, WASP-y, privileged, and beautiful. Also perhaps noteworthy are the supporting characters played by the adorable Elijah Wood and boyishly handsome Adam Brody.

I think what’s important to “get over” with this film is that it’s not a nice, neat, romantic comedy tied up in a little bow. (Although for some odd reason it’s listed as such on Netflix.) You’re maybe not supposed to especially “like” the characters or root for someone, or see the perfect ending. That’s what makes The Romantics special. It’s finely nuanced, yet I couldn’t look away. The misty oceanside setting, tight dialogue and sensitive moments make the film all worth watching. While the film is of course called “The Romantics,” there isn’t much romance going on, really – even though the central storyline is a wedding. “The Romantics” was what this bunch of friends dubbed themselves in college, and so it sticks.

It’s clearly set up from the start that Laura (Holmes) has had an ongoing thing for Tom. Yet he chose Lila to marry. And Laura’s also the maid of honor, causing even more tension. Throughout the film we see him struggle with his choice – he yearns for a wild heart like Laura’s, yet Lila’s buttoned-up, restrained, almost catatonic persona seems to be a safer decision for the long haul. Poetry bubbles up inside Tom as he succumbs to his desires on the eve of his wedding, and Laura wakes up alone. Katie Holmes is effortless in this role. You can’t hate her or blame her for her actions, however wrong they may be morally. You feel kind of bad for her but not, because clearly she’s the character with the most depth and intellectual expanse.

Plenty can go wrong with ensemble casts, but The Romantics seems to pull it off. You don’t have to know every detail, you just sort of follow along as if you were witnessing stylish night from the sidelines. You feel privileged and beautiful just watching, but you still wouldn’t want to trade places with any of them.

The Romantics is also rife with themes that resonate for me, a girl who is moving slowly into her late twenties. Regret, perhaps. Pining. Ambivalence. Omnipresent pressure to settle. Lust, naturally. The juxtaposition of being carefree and careworn all at once. These are the subtle notions that are woven throughout the movie. If you’re not keen to see the movie for what it is, much of it could easily be lost. Before finishing the film, I read on various reviews that the ending was a “rip off,” etcetera – but when the end came, I was overjoyed. No cheese, no “this is exactly what happens to these people,” you’re left to surmise and speculate, but in a pleasant way that doesn’t leave you feeling cheated.

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