The Romantics finally gets its UK DVD release this week. The Gen Y dramedy chronicling the enmeshed lives of seven college friends was filmed in late 2009 and in the intervening years the supporting cast have gone on to become headline names themselves.
But back in 2009 Katie Holmes was the biggest star on the bill and it is she who top-lines. Capitalising on those Joey Potter powers of irresistibility, she stars as Laura, the one-that-got-away from groom-to-be Tom (Josh Duhamel). Thrown together during the rehearsal and build up to his high society wedding (to her former roommate and sometime friend Lila), their chemistry is as inextinguishable as it is predictable.
Lila (Anna Paquin) loves Tom with all her heart but she is pragmatic and understands how easily his head could be turned. Her friend’s adult lives have complications of their own – nicknamed The Romantics at college, when they were young enough to hold such ideals – they are each struggling with the disappointments of translating college idealism and relationships to the real world. Between them they have drug habits, journalistic successes, criminal convictions and marital disharmony. So much for romance! Laura is furious with Tom for settling for the material and emotional comfort of life with Lila. She had imagined that their years of passionate rendezvous and impassioned rows would continue unchecked. She determines that he will explain himself and, in so doing, see the error of his ways.
Their other friends uncouple to pair off and drunkenly catch up on the time that has passed, gradually revealing to one another just how deeply reality has bitten. Sexy actress Tripler (Malin Akerman) is not quite the fabulous success she purports to be and cynical novelist Jake (Adam Brody) is going nowhere fast. Pete and Weesie are casting off their inhibitions along with their clothes as they belatedly bond and Chip (Elijah Wood) has some surprising revelations for everyone. Lila is the lone voice of reason among the discord, primly tucked up in her childhood bed, a nourishing facemask smoothing her frown as she scolds some sense into her flustered fiancé.
The Romantics relies upon happenstance and nostalgia to unite its lovers. Laura and Tom have a handful of chance encounters and a juvenile poetry exchange before their inevitable tryst. It satisfyingly juggles glances at the group’s misdeeds through the long wedding eve night and we get a nice sense of who these young adults have become and a chance to enjoy the incestuous nature of their bonds. Frustratingly though it misses the opportunity to properly explore the most interesting dynamic of all – the relationship between Laura and Lila. The Venn diagram of their friendship bleeds envy and mistrust at its intersection. I would have liked to sacrifice five or ten minutes of Laura and Tom’s self-conscious intellectual banter for one good meaty scene between these two.
I tend to think of Josh Duhamel simply as one of those guys that mainstream Hollywood cookie-cuts and rolls off its production line. They fill screen space adequately and ably tote guns or engagement rings to order but they never set the world aflame. In The Romantics a glimmer of a brighter light still shone in him. Perhaps it was because Tom’s powerlessness left room to spare in his character for angst, bitterness, resentment – qualities we don’t see in the popcorny roles he now favours – but whatever the reason the blues suit Mr. D. Katie Holmes fares less well, she is outshone by Anna Paquin and the majority of the female cast. Laura’s pouting disappointment and superiority make her difficult to engage with and Holmes’ lack of range allows no room for Laura to be anything more than she superficially appears.
Writer/director Galt Niederhoffer also wrote the novel upon which The Romantics is based. Although there is no reason to doubt that her vision was fully realised, it is interesting to note that Liv Tyler was originally cast in the lead role. With lovely, passionate Liv as Laura one could more easily understand Tom’s confusion, hell even I would lament the loss of a Liv, Katie Holmes…not so much. Anna Paquin, on the other hand, is well cast as the resolute Lila. When it finally comes, her confrontation with Laura is impeccably delivered. The conclusion won’t be to everyone’s taste but I think it a fitting and brave ending to an interesting film.
The Romantics is available on DVD now