Lot Like Love, A (United States, 2005)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Here's a pleasant little romantic comedy that doesn't try too hard and has the virtue of doing a few things differently. Not that it breaks new ground, but there is a little more substance to the story than boy-meets-girl/boy-loses-girl/boy-gets-girl-back. A Lot Like Love features B-list stars Ashton Kutcher and Amanda Peet, and, while the chemistry between these two doesn't set the celluloid on fire, there are enough fitful sparks to get us rooting for them to end up together, which is the key foundation to the success of any romance.

Actually, calling A Lot Like Love a "romantic comedy" may be mislabeling it. While the film is undeniably a romance, it's almost too serious to be considered a "comedy." There are occasional bits of humor, but some of them are so forced that they seem to have been inserted into an otherwise straight motion picture to lighten the mood. In fact, there are times when the tone of A Lot Like Love could almost be considered grim. This is a less fluffy motion picture than we have become accustomed to from entries into this genre.

The story starts "seven years ago," with recent college graduate Oliver Geary (Kutcher) locking eyes with Emily Friehl (Peet) in Los Angeles International Airport as they are both waiting to board a plane bound for New York. Midway through the flight, Emily barges into the lavatory while Oliver is cleaning a stain off his shirt, and, wordlessly, they join the mile-high club. After landing, they spend the better part of a day together in the Big Apple, then part. Just in case she ever wants to get in touch, Oliver gives her his parents' phone number. (He figures that, although he may end up moving, his parents will stay in the same place.)

Three years later, Emily finds the number and calls it. It's New Year's Eve and she's desperate for a date after being dumped by her boyfriend. When Oliver walks into her apartment, the spark is still there, but it nevertheless takes four more years and several additional encounters before the two characters recognize what the audience knows from the first reel.

A Lot Like Love tests the maxim of whether true love is meant to be. Fate, or something a lot like it, keeps bringing Oliver and Emily together. For each encounter, one or both of them is unready to make a commitment. Yet it's clear, even to them, that they connect better with one another than with the other possible "candidates" in their lives. Although there's an underlying current of melancholy in some of the scenes, director Nigel Cole keeps the tone from becoming too maudlin. And A Lot Like Love doesn't demand the kinds of intervention by chance that formed the backbone of Peter Chelsom's Serendipity.

This is probably Ashton Kutcher's most impressive screen performance to-date, but it's still far from a rousing success. The heartthrob avoids catastrophic missteps, but his performance lacks energy. Much of the zest in the dynamic between the leads is supplied by Amanda Peet, who is doing the best she can to help us forget that she appeared in The Whole Ten Yards. The supporting cast is comprised of a number of vaguely familiar faces (Ali Larter, Jeremy Sisto) who fill the necessary "best friend" type roles. After all, when forces beyond their control keep pulling the protagonists apart so they can't talk to each other, there has to be someone they can confide in.

It's easy to be cynical about a film like this, especially when you see the number of starry-eyed romantic comedies that I do. But A Lot Like Love has enough sincerity that it's not easily dismissed as just another attempt to plunder a lucrative market. And, by not going too far overboard into drama, it avoids becoming cloying and artificial. I like the movie and the way the story progresses. And, though it doesn't teach any life lessons (nor does it seek to), it may remind those who see it of the simple truth that it's the unplanned things in life that are often the most rewarding.

Lot Like Love, A (United States, 2005)

Director: Nigel Cole
Cast: Ashton Kutcher, Amanda Peet, Kathryn Hahn, Kal Penn, Ali Larter, Taryn Manning, Gabriel Mann, Jeremy Sisto
Screenplay: Colin Patrick Lynch
Cinematography: John de Borman
Music: Alex Wurman
U.S. Distributor: Touchstone Pictures
Run Time: 1:40
U.S. Release Date: 2005-04-22
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Sexual Situations, Nudity, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1