Good bad movies are hard to come by, but thank goodness for director David Mahmoudieh’s “See You Soon.” He and co-writer, co-producer and leading lady Jenia Tanaeva have crafted quite possibly the best bad movie of 2019. This stupidly sweet, albeit conventional romantic drama about two downhearted souls falling in love is unabashedly unafraid to embrace fantasy and lean into cheesy, gooey sentimentality. Steamier and sleeker than a Hallmark Channel movie, but with just as many idealized scenarios, it’s “so bad, it’s good” escapism at its finest.
World-famous U.S. soccer player Ryan Hawkes (Liam McIntyre) is on the verge of taking his team to the World Cup. His hard work and good looks have landed him a high-powered agent (Harvey Keitel), a gorgeous fiancée (Poppy Drayton) and a slew of multi-million-dollar endorsements. He’s an arrogant athlete whose lapse in judgement causes him to drive home drunk and distracted by Instagram. He survives a major car accident, but not without jeopardizing his livelihood with a career-threatening injury. His sponsors abandon him. His agent nags him. And his fiancée rightfully hollers at him to stop overmedicating.
Hoping to sulk in silence, Ryan takes a luxury cruise on the Mediterranean where he meets ship bartender/Russian single mom Lana Kalinina (Tanaeva). She is escaping her own problems back in St. Petersburg — including financial woes and an abusive husband, Ruslan (Oleg Tatarov). Sensing an undeniable spark, Ryan asks her to break company policy and disobey her bald boss (Mircea Stoian, who says all of his lines with the pathos of a Bond villain) to go out on a date. She relents and the pair proceed to fall for each other. Their sizzling affair gets her fired, but she’s found love, so who cares?
In the tradition of such high-bar romantic melodramas as “An Affair to Remember” and its remake “Love Affair,” Ryan and Lana split without exchanging any contact information. They choose to let destiny decide whether they’ll meet again at a scheduled time and place. Naturally, tragedy strikes before they’re to reunite, as her young soccer-loving son Danny (Petr Tereschenko) falls into a coma after a bully shoves him to the ground. Viewers can predict where things go from there — but they’ll probably never anticipate that the end credits feature clips from the movie they just watched, rolling over Chicago’s “You’re the Inspiration.”
Mahmoudieh, Tanaeva and co-writer Mike Cestari have created a gloriously goofy gem — one that begs to be seen to be believed. Superstar cameos from Carlos Puyol and Alexi Lalas land with a dull thud. Character conflicts materialize with barely any sense of gravitas. Lana worries about job security for all of 30 seconds. The allegedly scandalous paparazzi photos of the couple frolicking don’t complicate either of their lives in the least bit. A missed personal connection in the era of the internet and social media isn’t nearly as insurmountable as these filmmakers make it out to be. The dialogue and its delivery oscillates between cute and cringe-worthy. It feels like all the scenes in English were first written in Russian and then funneled through Google translate. And viewers will have no trouble remembering Ryan Hawkes’ full name, as other characters say it repeatedly and he inexplicably says it aloud signing an autograph.
What keeps things afloat are the frequently laughable melodramatics. There’s a scene set in Ryan’s modern mansion where he plays a sad-sack ballad on his baby grand with an empty pill bottle glimmering in the light. There’s a genre-mandated montage in which Lana gets ready for her big date with her shipmate girlfriends. All that’s missing there is a singing-into-hairbrushes song sequence. The narrative, which up until its second act could be considered fairly wholesome, is interrupted by gratuitous nudity in a sex scene. Later, as Mark Isham’s sappy score swells to a crescendo, Ryan jumps over what looks like a mere 12-inch gap on a drawbridge to get to Lana’s side. One small step for man, one giant leap backward for cinema.
While Mahmoudieh and cinematographer Eric Maddison spotlight gorgeous vacation destinations and make everything visually compelling, subtly color-coding Ryan and Lana’s worlds (his with teal blues, hers with red), the occasional use of poorly rendered greenscreen serves to detract from the scenery. Performances are just as uneven. Tanaeva’s lack of on-camera experience is especially noticeable. She fumbles through scenes where she’s tasked to emote vulnerability and sadness. Her chemistry with McIntyre is a tad clumsy. McIntyre fails to deliver a convincing performance when called upon to play drunk, yet when he goes into full heartthrob mode, he radiates all the charm and charisma necessary for leading man status.
This is clearly a vehicle for Tanaeva. The fairy tale is geared to showcase her skills — while inevitably exposing the lack thereof — both in front of and behind the camera. Though she is gorgeous, the film is a beautiful hot mess all the way through Peter Cetera’s soaring vocals. And it should be cherished for that.