With “A Lot Like Love”, Ashton Kutcher continues the process of moving beyond his Kelso persona, begun with “The Butterfly Effect” and neatly furthered recently with “Guess Who”, by co-starring in a superbly charming film that’s nothing less than a gem in its genre. Still, it doesn’t do complete justice to the film to label it a romantic comedy because it spills over from those parameters in such lovely ways, being just as much an observation of the lives of two people and what it is that brings them together. Here’s a film with a leisurely pace that doesn’t have you looking at your watch but instead makes you even more interested in what happens next.
The leads are played by Kutcher and the beautiful Amanda Peet. They look like they’re having fun, they have great chemistry and the story, spanning roughly six years in the lives of two young people who are meant to be together, pulls you in right away. Oliver (Kutcher) and Emily (Peet) first meet on a flight from L.A. to New York. They lock eyes at the terminal, and once aboard, in the blink of an eye she joins him in the bathroom and they become members of the mile-high club. Once in the Big Apple, they continue to spend time together, and Oliver is informed that not playing the guitar is strike two, and then that his astrological sign is strike three. What could the first strike have been? Finding out is only one of the many rewards of staying tuned as the characters go their separate ways, find themselves in relationships and also try to be successful in their professional lives.
“A Lot Like Love” refreshingly approaches characters and situations without resorting to histrionics or straining to get easy laughs when bright smiles are more satisfying. The picture is full of moments handled in a way that rings true. For example, an eventful overnight stay at a national park ends with a level-headed admonition from a state trooper in the morning- nobody screams, nobody is humiliated, life goes on. Earlier, a gentle old lady on a train asks Oliver if he’d like to sit next to his “girlfriend” whom he has only known for a few hours. Oliver actually does what feels right: he says he’d like that very much, appreciates the offer and switches seats. The filmmakers ask the audience to invest time in caring about the characters, and that narrative approach works wonders in Colin Patrick Lynch’s screenplay.
Ty Giordano, as Oliver’s down-to-earth deaf brother, Kal Penn, last seen going to White Castle with Harold, Kathryn Hahn and Ali Larter contribute supporting performances in a production admirably paced by director Nigel Cole (Calendar Girls). The trailer and TV ads give a misleading glimpse of Oliver’s rendition of Bon Jovi’s I’ll be There for You. In context and in its entirety, the scene is much richer than those spots would lead you to believe, and it’s a nice nod to the great 1989 film “Say Anything”, which made superb use of Peter Gabriel’s In Your Eyes. Another obvious influence is “When Harry Met Sally”, although in the broader outline because the steps to love are different here. There’s an underplayed scene at Oliver’s place, involving a framed photograph, that’s a subtle echo of the part in WHMS where Bruno Kirby’s writer character is both surprised and flattered when something he wrote is quoted back to him.
Kutcher, who’s gaining credibility with every role, is a fine screen partner for Peet, who’s effortlessly charismatic in a way that “The Whole Nine Yards” could only suggest. They inhabit characters that seem to enjoy not only each other’s company, but also life itself. There’s a bit at a pancake restaurant where Emily makes nostril ornaments out of giant straws. When Oliver responds with similar tomfoolery a bit later, the fun is not in the action itself but in the other person’s bubbly reaction to how silly it is, and the same words apply to their wildly enjoyable sing-along of Chicago’s If You Leave Me Now. Perhaps the greatest trick Kutcher ever pulled was to make us believe he was nothing more than a doofus on That 70’s Show or a dude asking where his car was. Maybe, just maybe, he had us Punk’d all along.
Review by J-F Tremblay