Greetings again from the darkness. As consistently as January brings horror films, we can count on February to deliver Romantic Comedies released around Valentine’s Day. Although, these days, even rom-coms tend to arrive carrying the weight of social messaging wrapped in inclusion, with a concerted effort to avoid ruffling feathers and hurting feelings. The husband and wife writing team of Dave Franco and Alison Brie, with Franco directing and Brie in a lead role, have managed to play by the new rules and still deliver a watchable film – albeit one that I found more sad than comedic.
Ally (Alison Brie, THE POST, “Mad Men”) is a showrunner/producer of a dessert-centric reality TV show. Season three has just wrapped, and Ally has been informed her show will not be renewed. As with any career-minded person, Ally is devastated and heads home to visit her mother and clear her head. The hometown she left a decade ago to chase her dream of being a documentary filmmaker in Los Angeles is the ‘always Christmas’ town of Leavenworth in Washington state. An awkward intrusion on her mother (Julie Hagerty) sends Ally to the local bar where she bumps into the former flame she dumped to purse those doc dreams.
Ally and Sean (Jay Ellis, TOP GUN: MAVERICK, 2022) quickly fall into the comfort zone of a long ago relationship, and spend the night frolicking about the town. Sean does refuse the intimate offer from Ally, which leads her to blindly stumble into his engagement weekend the next day. Yep, it’s a detail Sean conveniently forgot to mention during their wild night, and now Ally is face to face with Cassidy (Kiersey Clemons, ANTEBELLUM, 2020) and Sean’s entire family. His mother’s (Olga Merediz) request for Ally to be the wedding videographer is just the opening Ally needs to begin her battle plan of stopping the wedding.
It’s at this point where we can’t help but think of MY BEST FRIEND’S WEDDING (1997), and the writers take this head-on with a mention. We can’t tell if Ally thinks she can win back Sean or if she is merely taking out her frustrations in recognizing what she turned down years ago when she chose career of Sean. The tone begins to shift when Ally sees Cassidy performing with her punk rock band, and as the two women talk to each other, it becomes clear that Ally views Cassidy as a younger version of herself. Cassidy even discloses that her bisexuality caused the estrangement with her closed-minded parents. So how does one undermine the wedding of another who isn’t so bad after all?
Also involved are Ally’s old best friend Benny (Brie’s “Community” co-star Danny Pudi), who injects some humor and tries to prevent her meddling, and Sean’s stepbrother played by Haley Joel Osment, who tosses out a Brendan Fraser reference … actually kind of funny, especially in comparison to the Jeremy Renner joke that will likely cause mass cringing. Most of the characters are grounded enough that it’s a difference from many rom-coms, but we do get the feeling a few times that much effort was put forth in creating something outside the normal tropes, rather than the typical “aww, how sweet” moments we are usually subjected to in this genre.
Dave Franco is the younger brother of James Franco, and is a frequent actor who previously directed THE RENTAL (2020), one that varies substantially from this one. Alison Brie is best known for her acting roles, but also previously wrote HORSE GIRL (2020) and SPIN ME ROUND (2022). Here, she doesn’t shy away from a character that we initially pull for, yet end up kind of annoyed with. It’s not a typical break-up movie, or sappy romance, or he/she is ‘the one’ story. Instead, it draws on mean girl tendencies, jealousies, and regrets … yet also delivers the message of staying true to one’s self. As a compliment, it can be said that the film cannot be lumped in with our usual Valentine’s Day saccharine.
Opens in theaters on February 10, 2023