Friday, May 14, 2010

Death by Rom-Com: My Last Five Girlfriends

Many deride Alain de Botton and his philosophy for the layman as rather shallow if reassuring musings. Others consider him a “rock star.” Fans and critics alike will probably see vindication in the romantic comedy adapted from his hybrid novel-essay, On Love. Fortunately, writer-director Julian Kemp largely re-conceives the story, producing a reasonably entertaining laughter quotient in My Last Five Girlfriends (trailer here), part of a batch of previous Tribeca Film Festival selections currently getting a limited theatrical run through the fest’s new distribution arm.

Duncan, a British architect specializing in emergency exits, is one swig of booze away from ending it all. He recently broke up with his girlfriend Gemma and is taking it kind of hard. While number five is definitely the precipitating motivation, the previous four girlfriends before her did not do much for his mental stability either. As darkness approaches, Duncan contemplates where each relationship went wrong, with the help of his surrealist construct: Duncan World, an amusement park based on his miserable life.

Duncan’s flashbacks of numbers one through four are dispensed with fairly quickly. Unfortunately, that includes the still very attractive Jane March (memorably seen in the muddled Color of Night with Bruce Willis) as Olive (number two chronologically). Second to the last Natalie gets a bit more screen time, since they were a going concern for quite a while. Duncan would also meet Gemma, his eventual number five, through her.

Five is a bit unusual in the rom-com genre, in that it is very definitely presented from a male POV, and not always a particularly mature one at that. Yet, while we see Duncan do plenty of stupid and boorish things, he is not a bad guy. Indeed, Brendan Patricks fleshes him out reasonably well, bringing a bit of an edge, but always maintaining his everyman likability. As a result, his drama with Naomie Harris’s Gemma induces a whole lot of sympathetic wincing.

Though Kemp’s relationship material is mostly standard issue, he has a good eye for visual comedy, integrating some inventive animation and trippy fantasy sequences into the mix. His affinity for black comedy is also apparent throughout, particularly in the framing device. Still, it really is a comedy, though the romance is often elusive for poor hapless Duncan.

Granted, Five never really breaks any new cinematic ground, but the pacing is breezy and the sight gags are crisply executed. Although the characters are bit older, it should satisfy fans of films like Better Off Dead and Youth in Revolt. Five screens at the Tribeca Cinemas through Tuesday (5/18), as does the dystopian animated film Metropia, one of the highlights of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival also selected for their inaugural release slate.