Ready for some rom-com on the big screen?

MAY 4 — Rom-coms used to be really big business in the 90s, with Hollywood studios churning them out one after another, especially after the huge box-office success of Sleepless In Seattle.

True, the earlier When Harry Met Sally and Pretty Woman were also rom-coms and were massively successful as well, but I think anyone who observed the phenomenon can agree that it was Sleepless In Seattle that caused the gold rush which led to other 90s classics like While You Were Sleeping, Notting Hill, Never Been Kissed, The Wedding Singer andMy Best Friend’s Wedding being made.

That era is long gone though.

Outside of the occasional Asian rom-coms coming out of countries like South Korea, Thailand and China, we very rarely get to see rom-coms in Malaysian cinemas anymore.

For some reason, the Hollywood rom-com has retreated into the less financially risky domain of Netflix, with last year particularly notable for Netflix when they scored big with hits like The Kissing Booth, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, Set It Up and Sierra Burgess Is A Loser.

So when I suddenly came across two rom-coms opening in Malaysian cinemas this week, in addition to two other Netflix rom-coms which started streaming quite recently, I knew that I was destined to write about them this week.

So whether you’re more of a "movie date at the cinema" or "Netflix and chill movie date" kind of person, I hope these short reviews help!

Long Shot

A Hollywood rom-com playing in Malaysian cinemas, starring Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen? Count me in!

If you’ve seen the trailer then you’ll know that Theron plays a US Secretary of State (who’s planning to run for President) and Rogen, a dude she used to babysit, is her writer.

This being a rom-com and them being the lead couple, of course it’ll be all about how they fall in love and the obstacles they’ll have to overcome in order to make it work.

By setting the scene in the modern-day political arena, the obstacles -- while still very familiar in terms of their places in the narrative beats and emotions -- are refreshingly different cosmetics- wise.

By reversing the gender equations here, Long Shot is very much a reverse Pretty Woman (or a retread of Knocked Up, depending on how you want to look at it) with a little bit of The Contender thrown in, because a woman in a position of political power has to deal with probably even more bullshit when it comes to public image, and Long Shot tries its best to meld the two, albeit not very elegantly nor very successfully in some parts.

But still, by the end of its two hours, you’ll find yourself fully charmed and entertained by the journey that Theron and Rogen have taken here, and it’s their chemistry together that carries the movie and made it a more than worthy entry into the pantheon of good, maybe even slightly great, Hollywood rom-coms.

Someone Great

Unlike a lot of their other rom-coms, Netflix’s latest release Someone Great begins with a crushing break-up.

So right off the bat viewers will realise that this will not be your typical story of falling in love with "the one."

In fact, debuting writer-director Jennifer Kaytin Robinson (the creator of MTV’s Sweet/Vicious) has come up with a lot of manoeuvres to try and make Someone Great a rom-com that’s a little bit different.

Firstly, there’s more of a bildungsroman or coming of age feel here as the film concentrates on a group of three friends pushing 30 – Jenny (who just broke up with Nate), Blair and Erin – which makes the film more about their friendship than about Jenny and Nate.

Jenny’s break-up and her impending move to San Francisco from New York provides the perfect excuse for the trio to go on a bender to help Jenny drown her sorrows, and it’s during this bender that all three learn to grow up in their own different ways.

But this being a rom-com, Jenny and Nate is still an important part of the story, and Robinson cleverly weaves this in by giving the audience flashes of Jenny’s memories of their courtship and relationship whenever something triggers it – a song, an event, a location and so on and so forth.

The film’s biggest inversion though is Nate (played by LaKeith Stanfield, of Sorry To Bother You Fame), who’s treated like one of those Manic Pixie Dream Girls in modern rom-coms like this, and who I’m sure has become the crush to millions of girls out there watching this.

The Perfect Date

If Someone Great is a wonderful example of how good a Netflix rom-com can be, then The Perfect Date is a fine example of how merely watchable some of them are.

A big part of that watchable factor comes from leading man Noah Centineo, who basically became the next big thing overnight after the success of To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before.

Here he plays a character named Brooks Rattigan who, in order to save up for college and to have something interesting to write about in his college entrance essay, creates an app (with the help of his best friend, of course) where anyone can hire him to play the perfect stand-in boyfriend, date or whatever for any occasion.

It’s an interesting premise, but the movie just doesn’t do anything at all with it. And so we have just another likable high school rom-com where everyone learns a few life lessons in the end, which to be honest is just a bit boring by now.

London Sweeties

At least I had something nice to say about The Perfect Date, which is perfectly acceptable because it’s streaming on Netflix and I didn’t have to fork out extra money to buy tickets to see it in the cinema.

London Sweeties, a Thai rom-com now playing in Malaysian cinemas does not have that advantage going for it.

I paid good money to see it in the cinema, and I was rewarded with one of the worst, most incompetent and borderline amateurish films I’ve seen yet in 2019, anywhere.

A movie about a bunch of good looking pan-Asian Thai kids living in London, some for work and some visiting, the whole movie is let down by horrible, awkwardly wooden acting, painfully unfunny jokes, a script that felt like it was made up as it went along, and camerawork and editing that felt like it was done by a bunch of very inexperienced film students; the whole thing was like watching a painfully amateurish short film on YouTube or Facebook.

How on earth this one got theatrical distribution here, I’ll never know. But yes, it is that bad, so don’t say I didn’t warn you!

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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