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Dustin Putman

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A Lot Like Love (2005)
3 Stars

Directed by Nigel Cole
Cast: Ashton Kutcher, Amanda Peet, Kathryn Hahn, Kal Penn, Tyrone Giordano, Jeremy Sisto, Gabriel Mann, Ali Larter, Taryn Manning, Herschel Bleefeld, Moon Bloodgood, Molly Cheek, Holmes Osborne
2005 – 97 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for sexual content, nudity, and language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, April 5, 2005.

If Touchstone Pictures hopes to turn a profit with "A Lot Like Love," an unexpectedly smart and subtly profound romance, it had better come up with a more accurate marketing campaign. The film is being advertised as a wackily broad comedy strictly for young fans of Ashton Kutcher (2005's "Guess Who"). The problem is these trailers aren't particularly funny, and they make the picture look like a wholly forgettable waste. The finished film, fortunately, couldn't be further from this. More of a bittersweet slice-of-life with comic moments, "A Lot Like Love" is an ideal choice for adult romantics, a sort of cross between 1989's "When Harry Met Sally," 2000's "Boys and Girls," 2001's "Serendipity," and 2004's "Before Sunset" that, nonetheless, never feels derivative. It is one of the nicer surprises of 2005, thus far.

Episodic in nature and purposefully so, "A Lot Like Live" spans seven years in the lives of the star-crossed Oliver Martin (Ashton Kutcher) and Emily Friehl (Amanda Peet), who have a chance sexual encounter on an airplane heading from Los Angeles to New York. Once in the Big Apple, they, again by chance, run into each other and end up spending a wonderful day together. Emily claims they couldn't be more wrong for each other—she starts off as something of a forthright bohemian, while he is a recent college graduate without a job and still living with his parents—but there is a connection that cannot be denied. Switch forward three years, the newly single Emily calls the phone number Oliver gave here and, on a fluke, finds herself spending New Year's Eve with him. He is set to move to San Francisco on an Internet venture, however, and so their rekindling is short-lived. Will they meet again, and if so, how many times will it take until they recognize just how perfect they are for one another?

Directed with an adept know-how by Nigel Cole (2003's "Calendar Girls"), there is really no denying where "A Lot Like Love" is headed, and yet first-time screenwriter Colin Patrick Lynch diverts expectations enough in his storytelling to make the getting-there a solidly fulfilling experience. More or less a two-person show with a whole lot of recognizable young actors—Ali Larter (2003's "Final Destination 2"), Jeremy Sisto (2003's "May"), Taryn Manning (2002's "Crossroads"), and Kal Penn (2004's "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle") among them—briefly showing up around the fringes, the film takes its time deepening the sweet friendship-cum-romance between Oliver and Emily so that there is an urgency in wanting them to end up together. These are not too-cute script creations, but intelligent flesh-and-blood human beings with their own dreams, opinions, flaws, and aspirations.

Furthermore, the picture deserves to prove once and for all that Ashton Kutcher isn't just a one-note flash-in-the-pan. As he did so well in 2004's underappreciated "The Butterfly Effect," Kutcher takes on a fully developed character here and makes it his own. There is no detectable mugging and no signs of him trying too hard to get a laugh; he simply plays the character of Oliver realistically and as written, while bringing his own engaging qualities to the role. As Emily, Amanda Peet (2003's "Identity") is utterly exquisite in one of her meatiest, most engaging roles, to date. A born natural who can hold her own comedically one minute and be heartbreakingly truthful the next, Peet does wonders in bringing Emily to life.

It should also be said that both Oliver and Emily are far from the same people at the end as they are in the beginning, as the experiences and pitfalls in their lives work in shaping who they ultimately become seven years down the road. Kutcher and Peet, at first glance not the most obvious of screen pairings, turn out to be an ideal couple who ignite the requisite fireworks while proving to be even more charming together than they are apart. Like Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore in the recent "Fever Pitch," the viewer likes them both and gets to know them enough that there is an active rooting interest in seeing them together. Kutcher and Peet share a number of lovely moments—the opening section set in Manhattan is like a great short film in and of itself, and another scene in which they sing in the car to the classic '70s song, "If You Leave Me Now" by Chicago, brings an unavoidable smile to the viewer's face. These getting-to-know-you snippets aid in bringing the nuances and chemistry that befit two people falling in love.

If the love story "A Lot Like Love" tells is strong enough on its own, the film goes one step further by adding insight into the way life can throw curveballs your way, yet continues to push forward whether you choose to or not. Not everything ends up nice and neat—pushing thirty by the final act, Oliver's Internet business goes under almost before it has taken off and he finds himself having to move back in with his family, while Emily's failed attempts at an acting career leads her to a newfound passion of photography—and that is the way it should be. Other details are just as welcome, including Oliver's close sibling relationship with his deaf brother, Graham (Tyrone Giordano); this doesn't serve a purpose so much as makes these people's lives feel real. In highlighting the sporadic run-ins between Emily and Oliver over seven years, there are a few too many coincidences that occur in these vignettes, such as Oliver's impending move to San Francisco the day after he reconnects with Emily, but these sporadic contrivances don't hamper the outcome in any significant way.

Like 2004's "The Girl Next Door," a masterpiece of a film that was ruined financially by a misleading advertising campaign that made it look like a throwaway teen raunchfest, "A Lot Like Love" might be headed down the same path if Touchstone Pictures doesn't recognize what kind of movie they are selling to consumers. One thing is for sure: it isn't the dumb-looking, teen-targeted comedy they are making it out to be in recent TV spots. In actuality, "A Lot Like Love" is a gem of a love story—honest, funny in an unforced way, sometimes painful and, ultimately, winsomely romantic. Even the eclectic soundtrack, featuring a well-chosen, instantly recognizable roundup of songs by such artists as Third Eye Blind, Jet, Smash Mouth, Chicago, Eagle-Eye Cherry, The Cure, Hooverphonic, Anna Nalick, The Getaway People, and Travis, is a few steps above the norm for the genre. "A Lot Like Love" does not deserve the fate of fading into obscurity; it stands as one of the more refreshing and enlightening entertainments of the new year when so-called refreshing entertainments have been few and far between.
© 2008 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman