Does anyone remember when Katie Holmes was considered a good actress? Anyone remember when she was among the most promising actresses of her generation? While "Dawson's Creek" brought Holmes celebrity fame, it was her performances in films such as "The Ice Storm," "Go," "Wonder Boys," "The Gift" and "Pieces of April" which brought her artistic credibility. That was all washed away during the seemingly bizarre courtship and quickie marriage to Tom Cruise around the release of "Batman Begins." Now, five years later, Holmes has proved she hasn't lost her chops after the 2010 Sundance Film Festival premiere of "The Romantics."
Excecutive produced by Holmes, "Romantics" is based on director Galt Neiderhoffer's novel of the same name and centers on Laura (Holmes) the maid of honor at the wedding of her former college roommate Lila (Anna Paquin) and the love of her life Tom (Josh Duhamel). The wedding features a reunion of all their friends from school who had the nickname "The Romantics." The conflict arrises from Laura and Tom's on again/off again love affairs which Lila seems to want to ignore. The majority of the film occurs the night before the wedding as Tom starts to have second thoughts, Laura tries to come to grips with truly losing the love of her life, Lila deals with the stress of realizing Tom is having second thoughts and their friends exceedingly flirt with each other's partners in a very subtle swingers like atmosphere (well, thanks to the significant amount of alcohol from the rehearsal dinner at least).
The friends are played by Malin Akerman, Adam Brody and relative newcomers Jeremy Strong and Rebecca Lawrence. Elijah Wood has a small part as the bride's seemingly alcoholic brother and provides some comic relief although it's a somewhat pointless character beyond that. The other four actors are fine, but the roles don't require much of them except to ad lib a couple of jokes here and there (which the director admits was the case).
Paquin is fine as Lila, displaying a more subtle range than her work on "True Blood" and Duhamel is fine in what is one of the few dramatic roles of his career. It's Holmes, however, who really surprises. Having looked wooden, shell shocked, drugged out or just uncomfortable in public or on screen since her marriage to Cruise, "Romantics" is her best and most impressive work since "Pieces of April." The 32-year-old actress won't receive awards buzz for the role, but it should remind many in Hollywood that Holmes can elevate mediocre material if given the chance and the freedom to really let loose.
Disturbingly, the film comes across as a mix of "Rachel Getting Married" for the Hamptons crowd which isn't exactly a compliment. You really don't care for any of the characters who mostly seem like rich kids who can't deal with finding love as they hit thirty. And while the ending isn't what you'd expect, this is material that has been mined time and time again. Unfortunately, "The Romantics" really has nothing significantly new to say about it.
Neiderhoffer, who has produced such Sundance titles as "Lonesome Jim," "The Winning Season," "Grace is Gone," and "Diminished Capicity," announced before the screening the film had wrapped only six weeks ago. That's an extremely short post-production schedule and, unfortunately, it shows. Neiderhoffer was visibly concerned about the brightness of the projected image after it debuted and the film had more scenes where you could hear the camera recording during the dialogue than any star-studded picture in recent memory (which is film school 101 folks). Her cinematographer, Sam Levy, shot the similarly grey and muddled "Wendy and Lucy" and may have been a mistake for this project. The problem is that a good chunk of the middle of the film occurs outside at night and at times it looks as dark as David Fincher's notoriously dark "The Game." Let's hope it was just a color timing issue for the sake of the filmmaker's stress level.
Overall, "The Romantics" is an uneven drama with a few fine turns by Holmes and Paquin as well as a killer soundtrack. Will the star power attract some bids? Sure, but it's hard to see it breaking out of the art house circuit even with a minimal national release. But at least it proves Holmes might be coming out of her disturbing creative reclusion.
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