Tim Daly plays a garden-variety cad who belatedly learns from his mistakes by revisiting “Seven Girlfriends” in Paul Lazarus’ debut feature. Pleasant, polished, reasonably clever romantic comedy doesn’t stray too far from the terrain of the director’s broadcast series work (including “Friends,” “Mad About You” and “L.A. Law”), integrating humor and drama in smooth, if somewhat formulaic, fashion. Given medium-watt cast, episodic structure and general middle-of-the-road tenor, breezy pic looks more like a solid cable/rental proposition than a theatrical player.
Professional chef Jesse (Tim Daly) is celebrating an anniversary with his live-in g.f., Hannah (Olivia D’Abo), when there’s a call out of the blue from Anabeth (Laura Leighton), his first, maybe only, real love. She’s on her way to get married, but is experiencing last-minute jitters — and flusters them both by phoning from her car to profess she may not be over him.
The call ends abruptly. Not until the next morning does Jesse learn that Anabeth suffered a fatal accident, a la Isadora Duncan; he’s already proposed to Hannah, who wisely interprets this desperate act as further evidence of his terminal, thoughtless indecision. She breaks up with him, finding a sympathetic shoulder — and ardent new suitor — in reliable, nebbishy fellow restaurant worker Roman (Ayre Gross).
Pushing 40 and spurned again, Jesse realizes he has no idea how to maintain a relationship. He decides on the spot to hit the road in search of all his old girlfriends, scattered in Phoenix, L.A., San Francisco, Boise and Portland. First up is frank, commonsensical Marie (Mimi Rogers), whose current domestic situation isn’t quite so conventional as it appears.
Next is the sexually forward actress Peri (Katy Selverstone), with whom he trades some slapstick-tinged erotic fantasies during a beachside interlude. Architect Lisa (Jami Gertz) remains furious at Jesse for having dumped her without a word of explanation or apology — though this unpleasant confrontation also brings reunion with her colleague Laura (Melora Hardin), who clearly has been carrying a secret torch for him. Always saying the wrong thing, Jesse sets himself up for a truly humbling humiliation when he leaves provocative messages on ex-flame Martha’s (Elizabeth Pena) machine.
Each of these women knows him better than he knows himself, warts ‘n’ all — and while not unkind, they’re quite willing to enlighten him about his self-centeredness and insensitivity. Finally Jesse shows up at Destination Zero, Anabeth’s funeral, where everyone — including her grieving fiance and mother — is appalled by his presence. A flashback to the horrendous mistake that ended their love makes this reaction understandable, to say the least.
Some silly physical comedy worsens the situation, but prompts Jesse to redeem himself with a heartfelt, if sappy, speech that shows he may change his bad-boyfriend ways yet.
Though it rises above sitcom standards, pic’s amusing developments have a contrived air, whether edging toward farce or feel-good sentimentality. It’s a lightweight date movie best suited to living-room viewing. Cast is agreeable down the line, the pace brisk, although the combo of Jesse’s trip, Hannah’s post-breakup woes, flashback and fantasy segs makes for a slightly haphazard structure. Pic has a conventional, bright look, making attractive use of various locations en route. Other tech aspects are pro.