Silver Screen: Something Borrowed *

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Silver Screen: Something Borrowed *
Bryan Miller

You're not going to remember Something Borrowed. I can prove it.

Here's the test: Try to recall the stars and/or plotlines of the following romantic comedies: Someone Like You..., She's the One, Til There was You, Rumor Has It..., and Simply Irresistible.

No matter how many lonely Friday nights you've spent adding your own savory tears to the sweet blend of Ben and Jerry's Chocolate Fudge Brownie, no matter how many mounds of mascara-smeared Kleenex you've pushed aside to make way for your feline companions, no matter how many times your cycle has synched up with Bella's after rereading Twilight, even if you are both president and treasurer of the Meg Ryan Fan Club, I defy you to describe three of those five movies without cheating via Google search. It cannot be done.

There's something about bland romantic comedies-- low-wattage star power, vague titles-- that renders them the most impossible to recall of all genre films. In that sense, Something Borrowed has it all: nonspecific title, low-wattage star power (appealing but out-of-her-depth costar Ginnifer Goodwin and no-depth former star Kate Hudson).

Something Borrowed does have one characteristic to distinguish itself from the rom-com crop, which is a batshit-crazy premise that seems engineered to make its romantic leads as unlikable as possible. Preposterously, however, director Luke Greenfield and screenwriter Jennie Snyder, working off a 2005 novel by Emily Giffin, attempt to stuff their rough-edged story into the candy-coating-smooth template complete with pop-music accompaniment, dreamy montages, and over-the-top romantic setpieces (a bed surrounded by candles amid a garden atop a New York City high-rise, anyone?). When the familiar conflicts arrive at the familiar times-- mostly in the form of screwball mistaken-identity mixups and miscommunications-- the characters respond with an airy, comedic befuddlement that rarely acknowledges how they're all screwing each other over. It's the dissonant tone of a Sandra Bullock romp superimposed on a sardonic Neil LaBute screed.

Goodwin stars as Rachel, a good-natured doormat of a lawyer who isn't pretty because she has brown hair. She does not, however, wear glasses, so there's hope for her yet. Her best friend is Darcy (Kate Hudson), a selfish wild-child who is pretty because she is blond. Darcy is engaged to marry Dex (Colin Egglesfield), Rachel's law-school crush, but a few months before the wedding, after a surprise party Darcy throws for her bestie, Rachel and Dex spend the night together.

Rachel is aghast, at least until she discovers that Dex shared her crush in law school but never acted on it. Once he met whirlwind Darcy, wallflower Rachel couldn't compete, but their recent fling revived all the old feelings. And so, during the course of a summer spent alternately at expensive Manhattan apartments and at a ritzy beach house in the Hamptons, Rachel and Dex engage in a covert affair to try and find out if they're truly meant for each other.

If that sounds kind of disgusting, it's because it is. The only character who acknowledges the gravity of the situation is Ethan (The Office's John Krasinski), a childhood friend of both Rachel and Darcy who is bound by Romantic Comedy Law to either come out of the closet or profess his love for one of the two girls by the end of the movie. Krasinski easily gives the movie's best performance, delivering the biggest laughs and creating the most intriguingly conflicted character despite minimal screen time. Krasinski is the only one who seems to realize the tone the movie should adopt is something a little closer to the thorny entanglements of a mid-period Woody Allen comedy or the introspection of a James L. Brooks dramedy.

For all the movie's myriad faults, the one thing it does have going for it is that dark premise. People do cheat, of course, both on and with their friends, and the notion of casting the cheaters as the protagonists is bold. Unfortunately, nothing else about the movie is the least bit bold or unconventional, and so rather than deal with the complexity of the situation, Greenfield and company attempt to make excuses for their characters' behavior on the way to a pleasant Sex in the City-lite trifle.

The primary method of excusing Rachel's appalling behavior is to stack the deck against Darcy. She's utterly shallow and almost too selfish to hurt, which Greenfield telegraphs from the opening moments in which she steals the spotlight at Rachel's party, then drunkenly disses her friend's shoes. But no matter how callow and obnoxious the filmmakers strive to make Darcy, it doesn't render Rachel's betrayal any more sympathetic.

But the worst of the bunch is Dex, who is conveniently played by the worst actor in the film. Dex's dilemma is supposed to be aggravated by a too-convenient but still-dumb subplot about his mentally ill mother, whose depression has magically lifted at the thought of her son marrying a shrill blonde harpie. Dear depressed mum is feeling so much better, in fact, that Dex's stern father has agreed to buy the happy couple a $2 million house as a wedding present. The combination of financial reward and concern for his mother is supposed to make Dex's inability to decide which best friend he should sleep with understandable.

Nobody was going to make this part work, but Egglesfield most certainly cannot. The charisma-free stiff looks like something Pixar cooked up just after the first Toy Story, when the digital-effects geniuses still hadn't perfected making human expressions lifelike. He's a total dud, utterly unbelievable as someone who could inspire two strangers to engage in a spirited game of rock-paper-scissors, much less drive two best friends apart. He looks especially absurd next to the taller, broader, funnier, and infinitely more charming Krasinski.

The end result is a movie in which we're supposed to root for a sort-of-amiable girl to screw over a friend so she can get with a jackass played by a dolt, while the only plausible romantic lead is relegated to ninth wheel and then written out entirely. Sounds like the recipe for the Least Memorable Film of 2011 to me!

Oh, and the answers to the quiz:

Someone Like You...: Blandified movie version of Laura Zigman's first-wave chick-lit novel Animal Husbandry, doomed to forgettability by star Ashley Judd.

She's the One: One of the many impossible-to-distinguish post-Brothers McMullen efforts of writer/director Ed Burns, this one featuring Jennifer Aniston.

Til There Was You: Astoundingly off-kilter slapstick romance between Jeanne Tripplehorn and Dylan McDermott (also featuring Jennifer Aniston).

Rumor Has It...: Memorable only as a wildly dissonant, absurdly conceived sequel to The Graduate, also starring Jennifer Aniston (notice a trend?).

Simply Irresistible: Occasionally metaphysical, cooking-centric romance featuring Sarah Michelle Gellar and future husband Freddie Prinze, as well as a talking lobster.