Some movies can be summed up in one word. Katrin Bowen’s Random Acts of Romance can be summed up with a let down sigh.
It’s tough to see a movie worth rooting for bite off more than it can chew. Or, in this case, expand its focus so far that the target the film is aiming for becomes more difficult to hit.
Random Acts of Romance gets our attention with its overlapping screenplay structure. The film’s informal narrative starts telling the story of newlyweds (played by Robert Moloney and Ready or Not’s Laura Bertram), then follows an adoring but more aggressive couple (played by Zak Santiago and Amanda Tapping), and then latches onto a loudmouth living the single life (played by Ted Whittall).
Bowen along with her co-writers Jillian Mannion and Kevin McComiskie are surprisingly able to juggle all of these stories, making each of them interesting in their own ways. Save for a few moments where coincidences begin too much like too-perfect happenstances, these characters weave into other stories with ease and the audience can gel with the film’s “it’s a small world” mentality.
Bowen, Mannion, and McComiskie also prove they have strong voices when it comes to observant exchanges and humour between opposite sexes and their relationships. In the same way the crowd pleasing Canadian indie Young People F*cking did, the screenplay captures honest – occasionally crass – talks about intimacy and spontaneity.
Like that aforementioned film though, sometimes the back-and-forths get too wordy for an off-the-cuff conversation and the slight exaggerated delivery from one of the actors sneaks in. For the most part, however, the discussions have us laughing with how sincerely frank they are – which are then complimented by terrific comedic timing.
All of that dwindles, unfortunately. As a movie goer who was avidly engaged in Random Acts of Romance, watching the film try and up its own game was disheartening. It’s almost as if Katrin Bowen was worried her film was going to be just another brick in the romantic comedy wall and in order to make her work stand out, she had to insert a bizarre brand of quirk.
The direct stories about trying to figure out the crazy world of relationships slowly have a thick murky sheen applied to them. We’re supposed to embrace the tonal shift gradually, but we can’t help but reject this new approach that simply doesn’t work. More of that glaze is applied and our resisting just gets worse.
The central stories enter a ridiculous realm. A realm where stalking and kidnapping are considered endearing and thoughtful. And, yes, you read that correctly.
Of course, a lot of what Bowen throws at her audience is supposed to be darkly comedic in a weird way. We’ve seen filmmakers attempt similar mischievous play and some are actually able to pull it off because they know the distinction between what’s bad, what’s good, and where the voice of reason resides.
Bowen, on the other hand, is confused as to how she wants the proposed events to play out. But, what she is sure of is that everything must follow a path heading towards a happy ending. It’s impossible to have a happy ending when matters are this messed up and straining for giggles.
These characters who were once normal are now involved in a romantic comedy that goes for the broadest of tasteless laughs in the ickiest of situations. In all seriousness, this was one of those movies where things got so out of hand, I asked the movie out loud, “what are you doing!?”
Let’s say Random Acts of Romance is a gambler on a hot streak. Multiple rounds go by and the skilled film has been consistently dealt good hands. But, when it comes to keeping onlookers interested in the game, the gambler feels the need to chance everything and go for bigger pots.
The leaps-of-faith end up not faring well, people start to sputter off, and all you have is a scrambling discombobulate pulling all the stops to get back on their feet – only to lose all their winnings.
I’m only being hard on Katrin Bowen and her film because I saw so much potential in that first act. That risk taking attitude will benefit her career in the future, but she has to pick her moments to be gutsy. And, Random Acts of Romance was certainly not one of those times.