Does this count as one of the Other Disasters?
"Love and Other Disasters" is a shambles of a film, a romantic comedy that struggles to be self-aware as a means of explaining away all its cliché. This is the first project from director Alek Keshishian since 1994's "With Honors," and, more importantly, it's his first screenwriting effort, and it shows. The script is constantly begging for attention when it doesn't need it.
We open and close with on screen text lifted (apparently) directly from the screenplay, telling us when the movie will fade in, and how it will fade out. Oddly, these two quick bookend bits are the only time Keshishian calls upon this device, and it's like having a narrator that's only around for a few lines - either go all the way with your gimmick, or don't use it at all.
The "script on screen" intro and outro exist for two reasons. The first is to explain away early why Brittany Murphy sometimes has a bad British accent and sometimes doesn't have one at all: not because she can't do accents, but, you know, because her character was born in England, raised in America, and now lives in London, giving her the amazing power to turn her accents on and off at random. (Strangely, the movie has Murphy's character clumsily repeat this information in a mid-movie conversation, making the text intro moot.)
The second reason is to drive home the notion that "Other Disasters" is a clever, self-referential, borderline meta work that winkingly deconstructs the formulas of romantic comedy. Keshishian's idea is to build a movie where characters admit they're acting like stock romcom leads, and isn't it a hoot that even though they say they're not in a movie and won't do movie-ish things, they still deliver such hackneyed moments as the last minute rush to the airport, or the wacky misconception that supports the entire plot yet could easily be cleared up if only one character would say the right thing any old time?
Except. Keshishian confuses the act of admitting the cliché with the act of having something clever to say about it. "Other Disasters" doesn't deconstruct genre trappings, or smartly parody them; he merely lists them, and assumes that is enough. Throughout the film, characters slip into discussions of "If this were a movie, I'd...", and Keshishian has them watching - and constantly commenting on - "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and "Notting Hill" in an effort to drive home the point.
None of it is really that clever, or witty, or memorable, and none of it has the slightest thing to say about these genre conventions, other than that they exist. Compare a throwaway joke at the film's end, in which the story has been turned into a movie-within-a-movie (featuring two surprise celebrity cameos reinterpreting the movie's lead characters), to a similar joke at the end of "The Player." In Robert Altman's film, having Bruce Willis and Julia Roberts show up and deliver over-the-top dialogue was a killer punchline at the end of a long joke about the Hollywood system. In Keshishian's film, having its surprise stars (I'll avoid spoilers here) pop up is an attempt to repeat Altman's gag (hammered home by an earlier scene in which a studio mogul gripes about how the story should be changed to make it profitable big screen product), yet the satire isn't nearly as biting. The laughs depend almost entirely on a hey-look-who-it-is cameo-as-punchline theme, and that's not the same.
Without any bite, the genre spoofing on display here comes off merely as a cheap before-the-fact apology for the script's reliance on the familiar. Murphy's character is a pixie with an adorable nickname, a free-wheeling attitude, a gay roommate/best pal, a circle of wisecracking friends, a sweet job at a fashion magazine, and a mountain of disposable income ready to be spent on the trendiest underwear. She's obviously a send-up of the Carrie Bradshaw brand of leading lady, so why not allow her to go to more comical extremes? Remove the occasional "oh, this is just like a movie" lines, and you've got not a parody, but a grating carbon copy.
Hijinks ensue when Emily "Jacks" Jackson tries to set up Gay Roommate (Matthew Rhys) with Hunky Argentinean Coworker (Santiago Cabrera), not aware that Hunky Argentinean Coworker is actually straight - and has the hots for her, not him. This is not enough to carry the film, not even if you count the drawn out plot thread in which Hunky Argentinean Coworker is about to be deported and "Jacks" (seriously, movie? "Jacks"?!) offers to marry him, oblivious to the romantic consequences of such an offer, and so we get a mountain of subplots in which Gay Roommate struggles to write a screenplay (complete with his lengthy, self-important humorous fantasy asides, because Keshishian frequently forgets who the main character is), Wacky Best Friend (a woefully underused Catherine Tate) deals with a stalker, and "Jacks" has to deal with Ex-Boyfriend Whom She Still Sleeps With (Elliot Cowan).
All of these characters exist so Keshishian can toss out random comedy ideas that never go anywhere or tie into anything, and he's not sharp enough to figure out how to get them to fit. In one scene, Gay Roommate visits (or fantasizes he's visiting - the movie's never clear on these cutaway sequences, another sign of its clumsiness) a therapist, played by Dawn French. The scene consists entirely of French delivering a speech about how passing gas in front of your significant other is a sign of progress in any relationship. It's a lengthy monologue, completely unrelated to anything else anywhere in the film, and after it, French's character is never seen again. In other words, Keshishian had a cute idea for a comedy routine about farts, wanted to include it, didn't bother constructing a way to logically include it, but tossed it in anyway.
And that's the movie in a nutshell. Random notions sprinkled throughout a bland rerun of a paint-by-numbers romcom plot, presented to us under the guise of insightful satire. "Other Disasters" is as wildly uneven and unfocused as Murphy's accent, and twice as annoying.
Video & Audio
The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer does a fine job; the Audrey Hepburn-inspired pinks and other bursts of color pop nicely, while the brightly-lit scenes are crisp and clean. The soundtrack is offered in your choice of Dolby 5.1 and 2.0, both mixes are clear and well-balanced, nothing fancy required. Optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles are provided.
"Making of Love and Other Disasters" (26:02; 1.78:1 anamorphic) is lengthy enough to suggest an in-depth look at the film's creation, and yet it's little more than EPK-level fluff. The cast talks at length about what their characters do and how much fun it was to work with everybody. Stretch that out to 26 minutes, and you're left with a making-of that's awfully shallow.
The film's trailer (1:47; 1.78:1 anamorphic) is also included. A batch of previews for other Image releases plays as the disc loads.
The romantic comedy genre is ripe for parody, and yet Keshishian's attempts at sly commentary fall short at every attempt. This leaves "Love and Other Disasters" as nothing more than a miserable formula piece. Skip It.