Born Romantic

"Born Romantic" is a nice try that only occasionally gets to third base. A largely well-cast relationship comedy centering on three guys and three gals in contempo London, writer-director David Kane's second feature is on a par with his likable debut, "This Year's Love" (1999), without taking any significant steps forward. Highly enjoyable when all its gears are clicking, but rarely as good as it should be, pic could score moderate business locally, given the right campaign, with selected dates offshore.

“Born Romantic” is a nice try that only occasionally gets to third base. A largely well-cast relationship comedy centering on three guys and three gals in contempo London, writer-director David Kane’s second feature is on a par with his likable debut, “This Year’s Love” (1999), without taking any significant steps forward. Highly enjoyable when all its gears are clicking, but rarely as good as it should be, pic could score moderate business locally, given the right campaign, with selected dates offshore.

With a London salsa club functioning as a central meeting point, pic intros in scatter-gun fashion the main protagonists. In the female corner, there’s screwed-up, bespectacled Jocelyn (Catherine McCormack), no-nonsense, man-a-night Mo (Jane Horrocks) and classy, slightly uptight Eleanor (Olivia Williams), an art restorer. On the male side, there’s smart, besuited divorcee Frankie (Craig Ferguson), awkward, bearded Eddie (Jimi Mistry) and lovelorn slob Fergus (David Morrissey).

Using an ongoing conversation about sex by two cabbies (Ian Hart, John Thomson) as a kind of Greek chorus, pic follows the ups, downs and near-misses as the sextet steer their trains into the right sidings. Another local cabby (Adrian Lester), who drives all the protags around at some point, acts as a kind of signal man.

Best written of the three pairings is Frankie and Eleanor, with Scottish comic Ferguson (last seen in “The Big Tease”) beautifully matched with the stunningly sexy Williams, in her best role since “The Postman.” From their first meeting in the salsa club, where Eleanor coolly punctures Frankie’s resolve with the news that “I’m bisexual,” she conducts an elegant waltz with the increasingly besotted Scotsman, who also labors under the handicap of sharing an apartment with his bitter ex-wife.

In contrast to the Frankie-Eleanor story, the story between Fergus and Mo has a kind of grungy romanticism closest to “This Year’s Love.” Morrissey is charming as the laddish klutz who dreams of getting back with a girl he knew years ago, and their eventual reunion is both touching and funny, with Horrocks smoothly changing dramatic gears between a tough-as-nails Liverpudlian and a girl who doesn’t want her heart broken again.

Weakest of the pairings is the Eddie-Jocelyn thread, with McCormack (so good in “This Year’s Love”) increasingly annoying as a ditz with major hang-ups in the sexual and self-confidence departments. Constantly twitching and emoting, McCormack is partnered with the equally irritating Mistry, who similarly overplays the puppy-faced Eddie.

Given the continual cross-cutting among the various stories and the inequities between them, pic rarely gets a chance to build up a real head of steam. As with “This Year’s Love,” Kane’s script is 75% there but still in need of at least one major rewrite, largely to resolve the jarring swings between naturally played humor and forced comedy.

In addition, the salsa scenes, which punctuate the action and provide the story’s finale, don’t quite have the desired choreographic punch — especially in an ensembler that is clearly dancing its way toward a happy end.

Still, there’s much to like here in an undemanding way, with Robert Alazraki’s lensing celebrating London life in an unforced way and Simon Boswell’s music jogging things along nicely. Michael Parker’s editing is trim throughout.

Born Romantic

U.K.

Production

A BBC Films/Harvest Pictures presentation of a Kismet Film Co. production. (International sales: the Sales Co., London.) Produced by Michele Camarda. Executive producers, David M. Thompson, Alistair MacLean-Clark, Melvyn Singer.

Crew

Directed, written by David Kane. Camera (Fujicolor; Deluxe color prints), Robert Alazraki; editor, Michael Parker; music, Simon Boswell; music supervisors, Abi Leland, Dan Rose; production designer, Sarah Greenwood; art director, Alison Harvey; costume designer, Jill Taylor; sound (Dolby Digital), Stuart Wilson; assistant director, David Reid; casting, Jina Jay. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Contemporary World Cinema), Sept. 14, 2000. (Also in London Film Festival -- closing gala.) Running time: 97 MIN.

With

Frankie - Craig Ferguson Second Cab Driver - Ian Hart Mo - Jane Horrocks Jimmy - Adrian Lester Jocelyn - Catherine McCormack Eddie - Jimi Mistry Fergus - David Morrissey Eleanor - Olivia Williams Barney - Kenneth Cranham First Cab Driver - John Thomson Ray - Paddy Considine
With: Hermione Norris, Sally Phillips, Jessica Stevenson, Martin Savage, Louise Delamere.
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