Four Comedies from Alliance
The Back-up Plan (January 26/11)
The Back-up Plan follows pet-store owner Zoe (Jennifer Lopez) as she decides to have a baby via artificial insemination, with problems ensuing as she meets the man of her dreams (Alex O'Loughlin's Stan) on her way out of the fertility clinic. It's clear right from the get-go that director Alan Poul and screenwriter Kate Angelo aren't looking to reinvent the wheel here, as the movie initially comes off as an almost prototypical example of a modern romantic comedy - with the less-than-innovative atmosphere cemented by the proliferation of wisecracking characters and the protagonists' initial encounter (which essentially defines the term "meet-cute"). It's worth noting, however, that The Back-up Plan does feature a surprisingly unpredictable midsection, as Zoe and Stan, having chosen to embrace their complicated situation, attempt to prepare for the baby's arrival and essentially start their life together. The domestic-drama atmosphere keeps things interesting for a little while, although there inevitably reaches a point at which stagnancy sets in - with Angelo's efforts at compensating for the stale vibe resulting in a number of thoroughly questionable stand-alone sequences (including an absolutely unwatchable stretch set at a friend's home birth). By the time the frenetic, race-to-a-loved-one finale rolls around, The Back-up Plan has worn out its welcome to such a decisive degree that even romcom aficionados will be left disappointed.
I Love You Phillip Morris (April 17/11)
A remarkably strong debut, I Love You Phillip Morris follows Jim Carrey's Steven Russell as he embraces his homosexuality, abandons his wife (Leslie Mann's Debbie), and moves to Florida - where the character begins pulling off a series of increasingly elaborate con games. After one such illicit activity lands him in prison, Steven meets and falls for a fellow convict named Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor) - with the movie subsequently detailing the ups and downs of the pair's tumultuous relationship. Directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa have infused I Love You Phillip Morris with an off-kilter, thoroughly irreverent sensibility that proves instrumental at immediately capturing the viewer's interest, with the inherently fascinating (yet undeniably outlandish) premise employed to consistently engaging effect by the first-time filmmakers - as Ficarra and Requa heighten the movie's engrossing atmosphere by peppering the proceedings with a number of compelling elements. The film's most potent weapon is, of course, Carrey's absolutely stunning turn as the central character, as the actor does a superb job of adapting to the narrative's jarring shifts in tone (ie Ficarra and Requa's script often goes from wacky shenanigans to high drama within the space of just a few minutes, and Carrey effectively ensures that Steven remains a believable, captivating figure throughout). In the end, I Love You Phillip Morris is simply an intriguing story told exceedingly well - which certainly bodes well for Ficarra and Requa's future endeavors behind the camera.
Starter for 10 (March 21/11)
Based on the novel by David Nicholls, Starter for 10 follows small-town teenager Brian Jackson (James McAvoy) as he begins his stint at a well-respected college and eventually signs up for a televised trivia challenge - with the film primarily detailing Brian's relationships with two very different women (Alice Eve's Alice and Rebecca Hall's Rebecca). Filmmaker Tom Vaughan, working from Nicholls' script, has infused Starter for 10 with a zippy, consistently entertaining vibe that's heightened by the compelling work from the various actors, as McAvoy delivers a thoroughly charismatic performance that's matched by his eclectic group of costars - with Hall's turn as Brian's sardonic love interest certainly standing as a highlight within the proceedings. It is, as a result, rather easy to overlook the decidedly conventional nature of the movie's storyline, although there's little doubt that the pervasively familiar atmosphere does result in a few lulls here and there. (It's also impossible not to wonder just why Nicholls chose to include a fairly melodramatic plot twist that wasn't even in his book, with its presence diminishing the impact of the movie's third act.) The game-show climax is as exciting and riveting as one might've expected, however, and Starter for 10 finally (and ultimately) establishes itself as a perfectly watchable (yet far-from-memorable) romantic comedy/coming-of-age story.
Weather Girl (April 18/11)
An affable yet conventional romantic comedy, Weather Girl casts Tricia O'Kelley as Sylvia Miller - a Seattle-based meteorologist who quits her job after learning that her anchorman boyfriend (Mark Harmon's Dale) has been sleeping with his cohost (Kaitlin Olson's Sherry). Sylvia is, as a result, forced to move in with her slacker brother (Ryan Devlin's Walt), with the film subsequently following Sylvia's ongoing efforts at both finding a new job and sustaining a relationship with Walt's easygoing best friend (Patrick J. Adams' Byron). Filmmaker Blayne Weaver does a fantastic job of immediately luring the viewer into the proceedings, as the writer/director kicks things off with a fantastically entertaining sequence in which Sylvia launches into a vicious on-air tirade against Harmon's smug character. (Sylvia eventually quits her job, but not before she refers to Dale as a "walking haircut.") It's a tremendously engrossing scene that ultimately stands as the film's high point, with Weaver's sitcom-like sensibilities ensuring that Weather Girl suffers from a pervasively uneven vibe that only grows more and more problematic as time progresses. Before it completely peters out, however, the film generally comes off as a perfectly watchable endeavor that benefits substantially from O'Kelley's engaging turn as the likeable protagonist - with the palpable chemistry between the actress and her onscreen love interest compensating for the overly episodic nature of the movie's midsection. The passable atmosphere persists right up until Weather Girl enters its tiresome, needlessly melodramatic third act, with the ineffectiveness of this stretch cementing the film's place as a decidedly underwhelming romcom (although, having said that, it's impossible to deny the strength of the heartwarmingly romantic finale).