The Romantics is the very definition of an ambition picture. The movie, based on a novel, was adapted and brought to the screen by the writer, Galt Niederhoffer. Unfortunately, this may be the film’s downfall. Niederhoffer’s sentimentality for her own work becomes self-evident in the movie’s painfully “indie” opening sequence, which is a roughly five minute sequence of preparations for a wedding. A this point, none of the characters have been introduced so the images of sitting in silence and looks of longing are pretty much lost on the audience.
Sadly, as the movie continues on, not much else changes. Niederhoffer’s characterization of these people that we’re supposed to believe have history is far too abstract and vague in order for a coherent history to be pieced together. One example of this is the complete disregard for fleshing out relationships besides the central “love triangle” between Laura (Katie Holes), Lila (Anna Paquin), and Tom (Josh Duhamel). There are two characters, played by Malin Akerman and Jeremy Strong, that they neglect to mention are married until about 45 minutes in. I mean, it’s clear that the two are together, but we’re given no sense of what their life is like together. It sounds like a trivial talking point, but when there’s supposed to be this sense of familiarity that surrounds this group of people, it feels like it should be believable and we should be able to make some sort of sense of it.
It’s somewhat excusable when this problem is limited to the supporting cast, but unfortunately the poor character development plagues the entire production. As I said earlier, the film primarily centers around a love triangle between three old friends. Laura was once with Tom, but when they broke up, he began to date her best friend and roommate, Lila. The film itself takes place the weekend of Lila and Tom’s wedding, so of course, old feelings are drudged up and all that nonsense. The problem is, when the film opens up, it’s pretty clear that we’re supposed to be identifying with Laura. By the time the film has time to deal with Lila, we only see the shrewish, micro-managing, nerve-wracked bride to be. Sure, she’s pretty, but we have no idea what could possibly have drawn Tom to Lila other than her looks. her faults are made too readily available and even the blocking of the scenes indicate a casual disinterest in what Lila has to offer. Even looking at the poster for the film, Tom is giving Lila an innocent kiss on the cheek. It’s that type of overt over-explanation of the characters actions combined with a complete disregard for the supposed “history” that makes The Romantics such a chore to watch.
However, to casually write off any of the film’s merits would be doing the film a great disservice. For its lack of depth, the film is filled with beautiful imagery. The setting of Upstate New York is both a fitting characterization for Lila, but it’s also the type of breathtaking visual that made me want to forgive the rest of the film’s faults. The camera work is charming and understated, somewhat reminiscent of the style of Rachel Getting Married but without the emotional sincerity. Even Katie Holmes shows signs of life in her performance as Laura. It’s nothing revolutionary, but it was a capable performance in a movie where it was clear that most everybody was struggling to make something out of the material that they were given. In the end, The Romantics certainly has something to offer on a surface level, but as the proposed character study that the studio was trying to sell it as, one can’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of disappointment.