Despite a faultlessly urbane turn by Alec Baldwin as the lecherous December to Sarah Michelle Gellar’s blushing May, “Suburban Girl,” a pseudo-sophisticated romantic comedy about the publishing biz adapted from two stories in Melissa Banks’ bestseller “The Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing,” remains strained and artificial. Yet, curiously, the pic’s awkward sense of striving reflects the gap between gangly immaturity and wished-for glamor, where much of chick-lit flourishes. Imminent release, timed to cash in on Baldwin’s current real-life domestic notoriety (and hilarity-provoking coincidences), could spell respectable box office.
Gellar plays Brett, a naive young assistant editor who constantly second-guesses her work. She inexplicably hangs out with curvaceous best-friend Chloe (Maggie Grace, the first of several unusual casting choices), who seemingly never read a book and whose jaded cynicism has bypassed both wit and charm.
All the while, Brett impatiently pines for absent b.f. Jed, off touring Europe with nary a postcard home (Chris Carmack, in his brief scene, interprets Jed as a clueless fresh-faced pretty boy — making him a weird choice as the significant other to an aspiring editor).
Brett is therefore ripe to fall into the welcoming lap of publishing legend Alex Knox (Baldwin), a well-preserved lothario eager to mentor her in and out of the bedroom. The lovers soon move in together, their lopsided amounts of experience ostensibly providing mutual learning as they exchange routines, banter and literary marketplace acumen.
Pic reps the first directorial outing for scribe Marc Klein, whose previous, derivative scripts were goosed up by highly imagistic helmers like Ridley Scott (“A Good Year”) or Peter Chelsom (“Serendipity”). Klein opts for a more conventional visual approach, often concentrating on well-observed details of upscale Manhattan locations to the detriment of nuances of character and plot.
Opinion will doubtless vary as to the quality and seemliness of the sexual sparks flying between the two stars, fueled by daughter issues(!) on his side and daddy worship on hers. Baldwin’s ironic self-knowledge and flashes of vulnerability (a fascinating reworking of his “30 Rock” persona) dovetail well with Gellar’s wing-testing mixture of bravura and self-doubt.
But helmer/scribe Klein has no desire to push the envelope. Archly uncomfortable encounters between James Naughton as Gellar’s doctor father and his near-contemporary Baldwin are shifted into tragic gear by illness and impending death, Klein choosing easy sentiment over moral ambivalence every time.
Pic is aided greatly by Steven Fierberg’s classy Gotham lensing, thankfully free of veneration for landmarks.