“From the director of ‘Two Weeks Notice’ and ‘Music and Lyrics,’” proclaims the advertisements for “The Rewrite”, a romantic comedy that debuted simultaneously last week in Manhattan cinemas and your living room (video-on-demand).
By Noah Gittell
“From the director of ‘Two Weeks Notice’ and ‘Music and Lyrics,’” proclaims the advertisements for “The Rewrite”, a romantic comedy that debuted simultaneously last week in Manhattan cinemas and your living room (video-on-demand). Whether such a headline inspires confidence or dread will likely depend on the viewer, but at least you’ll know what you’re in for. Like those films, “The Rewrite” trades on nostalgia for the pleasant and innocuous rom-coms of the 1990s, many of which starred Hugh Grant as a lovable but immature cad. Neither “Notice” nor “Music” was a major success, but they were at least competent entries in the genre. The same cannot be said of “The Rewrite”, which should put a final stake through the heart of the romantic comedy until someone radically reimagines it.
Grant plays Keith Michaels, an Oscar-winning screenwriter who has fallen on hard times. Unable to find work in a movie industry looking only for new voices, Keith takes a job teaching screenwriting at a public university in upstate New York. Trading sun and sin in L.A. for the cloudy, low-key lifestyle of the Northeast, Keith tries to make the best of it by stacking his class with young, attractive co-eds. He begins a relationship with the beautiful Karen (Bella Heathcoate), but is forced to keep it a secret when he runs aground of a prudish Jane Austen professor (Allison Janney) who also happens to run the Ethics Committee.
It is as tedious as it sounds. The script by writer/director Marc Lawrence is loaded with rom-com clichés and lacks any big comic or romantic set pieces on which to hang the plot. As a director, Lawrence fares no better. For key scenes, the characters are shot almost exclusively in long shots, so that we cannot spot even a hint of real emotion in their faces, assuming there is any.
But incompetence aside, “The Rewrite” is also a fine reminder why the rom-com is no longer in fashion, or at least why it needs updating. Its male-centric gender politics are a poor fit for today’s socially conscious era of filmmaking, in which gender equality is a prerequisite. In a film this generic, it is hardly a spoiler to announce that Keith does eventually learn to put his womanizing ways to bed, but he only does so in order to shack up with another woman. Holly (Marisa Tomei), a single mom who has returned to school after a twenty- year absence, may be closer to Keith’s age, but she lives by a carefree, live-for-the-moment ethos typically ascribed to a younger woman.
Tomei still has a dazzling and energetic screen presence, so she is well-cast in the role, but the notes she hits as a slightly more wrinkled version of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope that has dominated rom-coms for two decades are predictable at best – and at worst reveal a painfully regressive version of romance underneath the film’s occasional laughs. In this world, women exist only as cardboard cutouts to guide a central male figure towards self-actualization.
Meanwhile, Grant survives this mess intact by doing what he does best: elevating a pedestrian script with his ample charisma and comic timing. His limits are well known at this point, but it is still a pleasure to watch him bumble around an unfamiliar situation with only his British charm to lean on. The only pleasure of “The Rewrite” comes from the comfort and familiarity of watching Grant employ the same tricks that he has been using since “Four Weddings and a Funeral”. It would be akin to stepping through a time machine, except that Grant, mercifully, has aged like a human being and looks every bit of his 54 years.
Still, the pleasure of seeing Grant up to his old, winning ways only reinforces the fact that his time has past. Twenty years ago, “The Rewrite” would have been more highly anticipated, and couples around the country would have scheduled a low-key Valentine’s Day date night around it. These days, this silly little rom-com is relegated to video-on-demand, while “Fifty Shades of Grey” opened on more than 4,000 screens. It seems a generational shift has occurred.
If “The Rewrite” were any good, it would be easy to cry foul and rail against a youth-obsessed industry that prefers to make explicit all of the titillation at which movies only used to hint. But for that argument to work, “The Rewrite” would have to good.
My Rating: Skip it Altogether