Producer and Plum Pictures partner Galt Niederhoffer’s directorial debut, “The Romantics,” is an adaptation of her 2008 novel about longtime conflicts bubbling to the surface in the hours before a posh New England wedding. While in some ways an improvement on the book, this seriocomedy toplining Katie Holmes remains short on truly involving characters or situations, and is likely to spark unflattering comparisons to such vaguely similar, more distinctive films as “Rachel Getting Married” and “Margot at the Wedding.” Theatrical prospects look modest, but the pic should transition easily to cable.
Laura (Holmes) is the most reluctant member of wealthy, beautiful Lila’s (Anna Paquin) wedding party, in particular because the groom happens to be their fellow Harvard classmate Tom (Josh Duhamel), who dated Laura for years before abruptly switching his attentions to her roommate Lila. Still, the close bond between Laura and Tom didn’t end (even sexually) for some time — in fact, not until just before Lila called to announce their engagement and ask Laura to be her maid of honor.
Exacerbating her discomfort, Laura is the sole member in a tightknit group of college friends to show up without a partner. Tripler (Malin Akerman) and Pete (Jeremy Strong) are married, if not too happily, while Weesie (Rebecca Lawrence) and Jake (Adam Brody) just haven’t set a date yet. As a result, Laura gets paired with Lila’s reliably embarrassing brother Chip (Elijah Wood), a black sheep who takes great pleasure in mortifying steely matriarch Augusta (Candice Bergen)
Taking place over about 24 hours at the family’s seaside home (considerably less grand here than described in the novel), the story sees everyone get drunk at the rehearsal dinner, a latenight swim that results in Tom’s mysterious disappearance, subsequent search parties prompting partner-swapping misbehavior, and of course Laura having major confrontations with both Tom and Lila.
Latter scenes fall somewhat flat due to labored dialogue and relationships in which the audience is underinvested. While trimming the original material to a fairly brisk running time creates improvements — there’s scant arch and clunky prose left; the characters aren’t as irksomely pseudo-witty or backstabbing — “The Romantics” still lacks people we care about, or who even credibly care about each other.
Some excisions reduce whatever depth the material might have plumbed, notably excluding any reference to Laura’s sense of cultural schism as the lone Jew in this WASP-y crowd. But the really odd choice is to eliminate the primary (if mild) suspense hook: In the book, there’s real concern that Tom might have drowned (accidentally or otherwise), but here that notion is cleared up right away.
Perfs are just OK, with Duhamel registering Tom’s ill-articulated pre-wedding panic most strongly. Packaging is adequate, though overdependent on mediocre soundtracked songs for pacing, and rather drab in visual presentation. Some of these factors may well change — the pic was shown at Sundance as a work-in-progress, albeit one screened for the press, and was shown on HD pending a final 35mm print. Producers say slight editorial changes, color grading, some f/x, final sound work and scoring were still ahead.