There are shades of all sorts of other films within HTSBAL, the most obvious being Will Smith/Kevin James comedy vehicle Hitch, with a desperate, but at heart quite kind nerd looking for a way to win the heart of a seemingly unattainable woman under the tutelage of a more confident man. With Amerpersand (a genuinely hilarious Craig Conway), the alarmingly and bafflingly successful ladies man who takes James under his wing, we even have echoes of Tom Cruise’s Frank TJ Mackey from Magnolia, as he unleashes a barrage of profanity at a seminar on how to pick up women, before the lights come up and we realise that the only attendees are James and an elderly gentleman who thought he had stumbled into Pensioner’s Night at the social club. Although Ampersand is inevitably crass, stupid and crude, Conway manages to keep him just the right side of unpleasant and he winds up competing commendably with Phillips for some of the film’s bigger laughs, (“I think this is the worst party in the history of mankind” he says, at a party for James and his Warrior Quest-playing buddies).
Phillips, although far from the biggest name in the credits list, is very much the star in terms of screen time and he gives an excellent account of himself here. The earlier scenes, with James presented as a deeply entrenched nerd, provide the funniest moments including one scene where he attempts to talk to a friend of a friend in a bar, but winds up slurping her wine through his straw, explaining the difference between a mage and a wizard before announcing that he needs a wee. It is very much in the vein of the long-established comedy tradition of awkwardness and embarrassment and pretty much every time he opens his mouth to speak you are watching with baited breath, wondering where he will go wrong next. For example:-
“Like James Bond?”
He then tells Ampersand that he was just trying not to say “like Chlamydia?” Which would not have been any better. It is exchanges like this that elevates this film far above all manner of low-budget efforts that I have sat through lately and it goes to show that budgetary constraints are no hindrance to a decent end product, if you have a proper idea, can write a good script and can find convincing actors to read the lines.
Unfortunately, the film is not an unqualified success, with tonal problems being the worst culprit. At times the film is presented as a straight comedy of awkwardness and embarrassment, at others it drifts into crudeness and vulgarity, with occasional segues into surrealism and a final (and frustratingly conventional) dash-to-the-airport romantic comedy showdown. Similarly, the script seems unsure about how to handle Hannah as a character. She comes across initially as quite sweet, though unattainable, before developing into demanding, controlling, manipulative and selfish. It makes her in the end feel like a bit of a plot device rather than a fully-formed character, though to a degree that is testimony to how well-rounded the rest of the characters are; in a lesser film, Hannah would not stick out like she does here.
Although HTSBAL doesn’t get many marks for originality, it does what it does very well and generates the laughs for which it is clearly aiming. We are given relatively believable characters, a decent sprinkle of good lines and set pieces and some genuine laugh-out-loud moments. If the overall conclusion can be seen coming a mile off, it is no less satisfying for it, though slightly more judicious editing would have been welcome to bring the film down to the 90-minute mark.
Director Dominic Burns has Airborne coming out soon, which couldn’t look more different from HTSBAL, hopefully testimony to his creativity and versatility. Certainly he has done an admirable job here with pretty meagre financial resources, with particular credit for coaxing a thoroughly convincing and endearing performance out of Phillips, who succeeds (much like the film) in being funny, awkward (a couple of David Brent-esque dance routines are particular highlights) and sweet in all of the right places. Hopefully this film will find the success it deserves.
P.S. Careful with the trailer, it’s NSFW.