The Romantics Dir. Galt Neiderhoffer

[Paramount Famous; 2010]

Styles: indie comedy
Others: Prozac Nation, The Big Chill

What we know about “The Romantics” in the first two-thirds of The Romantics: “The Romantics” are a group of college friends that once doubled as an “incestuous” dating scene, now reunited for the wedding of two members. Two are already married, another pair have been engaged since 1999, and the maid of honor (Katie Holmes) previously dated the groom (Josh Duhamel) for four years. The ladies in the group use ironic put-downs to compliment each other’s clothes and the men are amiably droll. All love to drink, and except for the bride’s runtish brother (Elijah Wood), all are only pretending to like their romantic partners.

What we don’t learn about “The Romantics” until the last third of the film, if ever: what college they went to, what they majored in, what lines of work they entered, practically anything they’ve done with themselves over the last 10 years or so, why the bride (Anna Paquin) would have the groom’s former girlfriend of four years be her maid of honor, why neither the bride nor groom appear to have a single friend outside of this self-loathing circle, and why the hell a movie starring Josh Duhamel, Malin Akerman, and Katie Holmes features twinkly indie music and Futura font straight out of a Wes Anderson film.

In place of a fleshed-out backstory, director Galt Neiderhoffer (who somehow wrote a novel out of the same material) offers remarkably banal conversations about which archetype each character represents and silent-save-for-soundtrack walks on the beach. Someone eventually drops the word “Yale” in our laps, but that belated revelation of their Ivy League background still doesn’t prepare us for when Holmes and Duhamel start arguing about who wrote his “dissertation.” (With all due respect to Mr. Fergie, any film that will require him to recite Yeats at the emotional climax should tell us he’ll be playing the owner of an English degree as early as possible).

Although a modern-day Big Chill with the depth of a T-Mobile ad is hardly an actor’s showcase, its certainly bigger lifting than many of these B-list dreamies get to see these days. Elijah Wood, Adam Brody, and Malin Akerman should have no problem respectively getting roles as well-intentioned skeeves, passive-aggressive jerks and open-mouthed cokesluts in films of substance after this, and it’s nice to know that Katie Holmes can still play Joey Potter — eyerolls and all — after half a decade with Tom Cruise. Easily walking away with the film, Anna Paquin’s entitled bitch queen of a bride. Although she may be the ostensible villain, her aggression makes her sympathetic compared to the sulky shells around her; when she pussy whips the pre-wedding jitters out of Duhamel, we only wish she’d tear into the rest of the cast as well. At least her shitfits can’t be scored to acoustic guitars and xylophones.

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