My Best Friend's Girl (United States, 2008)
Romantic comedies are fantasies. They invite us to fall in love with the main characters as they fall in love with each other. That's difficult to accomplish when viewers find themselves actively disliking those characters. How is it possible to succumb to the fantasy when its participants are sleazy, creepy, or bitchy? With My Best Friend's Girl, director Howard Deutch has the beginnings of an excellent anti-romantic comedy: unlikeable characters, betrayals, and a general desire to see everyone die in a nuclear holocaust. For a while, My Best Friend's Girl seems to be going in the direction of a full-on black comedy where the words "ever after" are spoken only in reference to the phrase "praying for the end of time" (with apologies to Meat Loaf). Alas, around the halfway point, the film takes a 180-degree turn and tries to follow the formula, reforming the selfish protagonist and proving that true love conquers all. The problem? We still hate the characters and the happy ending feels as much like a cheat as any I have seen all year.
The premise immediately puts the film on shaky ground - not because it's inherently bad, but because it is poorly executed. Tank (Dane Cook) is the biggest asshole in the world - or at least that's what he wants everyone to think. His hobby is visiting "emotional terrorism" on women so they'll fly back into the arms of their ex-boyfriends. His tactic: set up a "meet cute," get the woman to like him, then take her on the date from hell. At evening's end, she'll be so horrified by the sharks in the dating pool that she'll flee back to the safe harbor of her ex's arms. Tank is well known as being the best in the business, and he owes it all to his superficial, selfish, womanizing father (Alec Baldwin).
Tank's roommate, Dustin (Jason Biggs), is a "nice guy" who's stuck in a "just want to be friends" relationship with a co-worker, Alexis (Kate Hudson). Dustin hires Tank to work his magic on Alexis so she'll realize what a great deal a romantic relationship with Dustin would be. But when Alexis goes out with Tank, she's looking for Tank's specialty - the one-night stand - and doesn't care if he's a jerk. This, of course, throws him off his game and he finds himself trapped in his own web, falling for the woman who is supposed to be his prey. From this point, seeing the movie isn't a prerequisite for figuring out where things are going.
I have never been able to understand Dane Cook's appeal. There are people out there who love him, but his body of work, such as it is, is underwhelming. I suppose his frat-boy personality appeals to certain groups. His ratio of movies to late-night talk show appearances is about one-to-three. His characters tend to be cocky and obnoxious and Tank is no exception. Maybe the problem isn't that Cook is a bad actor, but that he's unnervingly convincing in a particular kind of role. His chemistry with Kate Hudson is toxic. These two don't have a credible romantic moment in the entire movie. Actually, it's impossible to believe that Alexis could be in love with anyone except herself. Hudson has provided her share of appealing performances (sometimes in bad movies), but this isn't one of them. Meanwhile, I think we're supposed to be sympathetic to the dweeb Dustin, but Biggs makes him into a creepy stalker-type. Instead of channeling the oddly charming goofball personality Biggs employed in American Pie, the actor has tapped into something unsavory. If this is the filmmakers' notion of a "nice guy," they have some twisted ideas.
It is worth noting that there are two supporting characters who are interesting enough in small bites that the movie might have been better served by focusing more on them and less on the detestable main trio. Alec Baldwin has a grand time playing Tank's philandering father, who will sleep with anything possessing the correct body parts. Baldwin brings energy to scenes where it is otherwise sorely lacking, but his total screen time doesn't exceed ten minutes. Similar compliments can be heaped upon Lizzy Caplan (as Alexis' roommate, Ami). Halfway through the film, I was hoping Alexis would get his by a bus so Ami could take over as the female lead.
The director, Howard Deutch, has lost his way over the years. He began his career as the hand-picked helmsman for two of John Hughes' most beloved teen films, Pretty in Pink and Some Kind of Wonderful. After that, he moved on to making bad sequels to dubious "franchises." Now he has led us to this pit of a romantic comedy. Deutch has directed a lot of comedies, but few of them have been funny, and this is no exception. Whatever grasp he once displayed of fleshing out human characters is long gone. When Tank decides to redeem himself and save Alexis by showing her his "true" self, the sentimentality is cloying enough to choke on. It would kill the movie even if we cared about the characters. My Best Friend's Girl isn't just a misfire; it's a misfire compounded by a chain of miscalculations, and it's hard to figure out who this could appeal to (except, perhaps, Dane Cook's fan club).
My Best Friend's Girl (United States, 2008)
Cast: Dane Cook, Kate Hudson, Jason Biggs, Lizzy Caplan, Alec Baldwin, Diora Baird
Screenplay: Jordan Cahan
Cinematography: Jack N. Green
Music: John Debney
U.S. Distributor: Lionsgate
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