I’ve stated this before a few times, but romantic comedies aren’t traditionally films that I will watch. Most of them are ill-conceived and rife with so many cliches that are so bad they make me want to punch my own face. From time to time, some stand out and rise above the all-too familiar trappings of being a romantic comedy (Cameron Crowe’s Say Anything is a perfect example) and that’s just what Justin Reardon‘s Playing It Cool aims to do. The film is what essentially is a meta-romantic comedy, think the Scream of the romantic comedy genre. But is it successful?
The narrator and protagonist (played by Chris Evans) is a screenwriter hired to write…a romantic comedy (how meta is that)! The problem is he’s never been in love, and in fact has done everything he can to avoid it, so he is struggling to find his story and meet his deadline despite pleas from his agent (played by Evans‘s Avengers co-star Anthony Mackie). When the narrator (no, he doesn’t have a real name in the film) gets dragged to a charity benefit with his friend Scott (Topher Grace), he meets Her (she, too, has no name but is played by the exquisite Michelle Monaghan) and as would happen in your standard rom-com, they share a moment or at least the narrator thinks so. After they part, he can’t stop thinking about her so he embarks on a whirlwind tour of all the charity events he can find. Of course, he finally meets her again at an event. They talk more and of course, she’s got a boyfriend. But does that stop him? HELL NO! This is a romantic comedy, after all. The pursuit begins and it’s clear that the narrator has fallen for Her. His group of friends (played by Grace, Luke Wilson, Aubrey Plaza and Martin Starr) give him varying degrees of advice, some good, most of it bad. So the narrator is left to figure out what his approach should be. Does he get the girl? Remember, even a meta-rom com is still a rom com.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this film, but I enjoyed it. Evans and Monaghan have real chemistry together, which obviously is key for a film like this. Monaghan really stands out, though. She is everything that a paramour should be in a romantic comedy – funny, pretty, witty and vulnerable. Evans does an admirable job stepping outside his more action-based filmography (his best role being in Danny Boyle‘s Sunshine). A lot hinges on how these two actors interact and they pull it off well. Writers Chris Shafer and Paul Vicknair did a fantastic job deconstructing the romantic comedy genre and employing its more ridiculous conventions in funny ways right down to using the same cafe/diner that appears in every other romantic comedy. Honestly, I wish they would have eviscerated it a bit more, but I guess that may be too much to ask. The scenes with the narrator and his group of friends are the absolute highlight of the film, although I would liked to have seen more Martin Starr. Luke Wilson gets back to his early Wes Anderson-film form, which is nice to see since he been in a pile of shitty movies since Idiocracy.
All in all, Playing It Cool is a satisfying experience and one that may well surprise you. This film opens today in theaters and will be the perfect antidote to the universally panned and borderline offensive Hot Pursuit. Monaghan‘s infectious performance is worth the price of admission. Here is the list of theaters where it is playing and it is also available On Demand as well.