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Nothing breaks your heart like indie rom-coms. The romantic comedy is a genre that seems like it should be revitalized by independent film: you don't have to spend a lot of money to make one (snappy dialogue is free! Or at least available for scale, theoretically), and you don't have to cater to the wedding-centric, likability-driven, hackwork-celebrating formula. Yet what might have only been cutesy and disposable so often becomes facile and self-conscious when shifted further down the payscale.
Take A Case of You, an obvious passion project for Justin Long, who stars and also serves as cowriter (with his brother and his buddy) and producer. It tries to flip relationship clichés a little; it's neurotic dude Sam (Justin Long) who's intimately familiar with his local Chinese takeout guy, not a sad-sack girl embarrassed to always order for one. It tries to comment on the way we live now: Sam pursues his barista dream girl Birdie (Evan Rachel Wood) by finding her Facebook page and tailoring his fake interests to her real ones. It tries to offer edgy comedy with a bunch of supporting ringers. And it is, somehow, a thoroughly depressing experience.
Here's a detail that stuck with me: Sam is a struggling writer. Ok, strike one, but at least he's not an aspiring architect. Then we find out that he actually writes what sound like novelizations of popular movies, and has a supportive agent (played, in an amusing cameo, by Vince Vaughn). So, ok, he's actually not struggling and fairly successful, but he feels stifled by his uncreative and presumably anonymous work. But we find out about his job during a scene at a book-signing, which is, granted, sparsely attended but also (a) attended at all, by (b) at least one fan who seems to have no idea that the (c) hardcover copy of a book which (d) features Sam's name prominently displayed on the cover is based on a movie he didn't write (until Sam tells him so). Also, the signing is clearly held at a comics shop and features a comics-style illustrated cover, so I also lost sight of whether Sam is writing graphic novel adaptations of popular movies, or graphic novels commissioned to support what were actually first conceived as screenplays, or prose novelizations that are popular with comics fans, or if Long and his writing partners seriously didn't stop and ask themselves what in living fuck their lead character actually does for his much-talked-about nonsense job. (I realize I've just expended a lot of energy on figuring out what the hell a Justin Long character does for a living. But more, I think, than Justin Long did, which kind of puts me off any passion project.)
Anyway, the movie is about Sam using Birdie's online profile to make himself more palatable to her and then losing confidence that she actually likes him. But this makes little sense either, because Sam and Birdie have playful, affectionate interactions every single time they speak to one another, and Sam's blatherings about playing guitar or enjoying bourbon seem tangential at best. (Birdie all but says: you are so much more attractive than the sum of our supposed shared interests!) Still he presses on in believing, against all evidence, that Birdie only likes the "fake" him and the relationship is doomed, which is to say this movie is so devoid of actual conflict that it piles on bizarre psychodrama and puts across an astonishingly childish view (even if unendorsed) of how human interactions work.
The script eventually calls Sam out on his neuroses, but that doesn't make the preceding 80+ minutes less frustrating to watch (maybe more frustrating, actually, because apparently the nothingness of the movie's conflict is the whole point). Long and Wood make a cute enough couple, and the movie attempts to pad itself with eccentric supporting turns from famous faces—but for every Sam Rockwell singing a weird cover of the Spin Doctors' "Two Princes," there's Peter Dinklage doing a lame knockoff of Bill Hader's Stefon character from SNL. Guys, it shouldn't be this hard; Long and company shouldn't need to recruit seven or eight talented actors for cameos to prop up a movie about two people who like each other, then wonder if they really like each other, then, well, I don't want to spoil anything. But if you really want to avoid spoiling things, probably just skip A Case of You all together.
Screens tonight and Sunday. Click here for more info.