In a city the size of New York, with so many different personalities and the possibility for literally any situation to arise, it’s no wonder it is the setting for so many romantic comedies. Matthew Watts‘ Mutual Friends hits a lot of familiar rom-com notes, but its mumblecore-like narrative without adhering to the tenets of mumblecore (i.e. meandering pseudo-plot with simple, often improvised mundane dialogue) help sets it apart from the many others like it out there commenting on the nature of romance in today’s world.
The focus of the film is centered on Liv (Caitlin Fitzgerald), who is planning a surprise 40th birthday party for her fiancee Christoph (Cheyenne Jackson). As expected, everything starts to unravel threatening her perfect party – one of her brothers, Thomas (David Burnam), a free-spirited soul, shows up unannounced needing a place to stay, Nate (Peter Scanavino), her commitment-phobic best friend with whom she cheated on Christoph incidentally the same day he proposed to her professes his love for her, Christoph’s ex (Jennifer Lafleur) drops in unbeknownst to Liv and vows to win him back, and her other more successful brother Sammy (Ross Partridge) finds out his wife is cheating on him. All of this takes place within one day and Liv is left to negotiate this wasteland rife with landmines. Choices are placed before her and she must decide whether she should honor her commitment to Christoph, a successful lawyer, and marry him or jump into the uncertainty of a relationship with Nate, a slacker ass hipster musician, amidst all the other things swirling around her.
The film veers from Liv’s POV quite a few times, providing in the other formation about some of the characters’ motivations and relationships thus filling out the story as a whole. With these asides, we are granted access to these characters’ POVs and in return we get fully fleshed out characters and arcs, something that is rarely accomplished in films like this one. The most satisfying is Thomas’ as he is charged with locating a bartender for the big birthday party. After auditioning a few people, he settles on a like-minded free spirit Jana (Shannon Esper) and they scour the shops of NYC to help add their own flourishes to the party. At a moment when the party drifts into far too serious of waters, it’s Jana’s surprise performance that saves the day…for the time being.
Mutual Friends follows somewhat familiar conventions and part of me wishes that in stories like these, characters that get consideration for the love interest (i.e. Nate) actually earn it. They rarely do, so what may come off as millennial romanticism (or something of the like) really comes off as a guy moving in on territory that wasn’t his to begin wit. So why should I root for him? The Sammy storyline does flesh out his character, but I question the relevance of his storyline to Liv’s and the overall arc of the film. It was great to see Michael Chernus in this film. He’s as fun to watch in this as he is Orange Is the New Black.
These things said, this film still hits its marks and is a mostly satisfying experience, especially for those who the romantic comedy sits firmly in the wheelhouse. If that’s you, gives this one a whirl. It is currently available on most digital platforms as well as VOD.