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The Romantics -- Film Review

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PARK CITY -- It's a long night's journey into day for a bride, her groom and seven close friends in "The Romantics," writer-producer Galt Niederhoffer's initial foray into directing. Landing somewhere between a generational comedy and soap opera, the film is forgettable fun. All the characters could use more definition, which is surprising given that Niederhoffer has adapted her novel. One would imagine there would have been ample material to flesh out her wedding party for the big screen.

The film screened at Sundance is a work-in-progress with the music score still waiting to be laid in and additional changes promised by the director. This might be a case where a movie could be lengthened by a few minutes to its own benefit. In this cut, some of the more peripheral characters never quite come into focus.

Despite gathering storm clouds before the ceremony, literally and figuratively, this is a pretty light genre film with the occasional juicy confrontation to spice up the party. Theatrically, "Romantics" will be embraced by the over-25 set primarily, though wedding movies seem to play across many age groups. Boxoffice potential appears to be modest.

Does there actually exist a filmmakers' playbook for clan-gathering films? This one certainly follows that formula with a large white mansion -- all those rooms to play hide-and-seek in! -- that sits majestically on a shoreline in front of a large lawn perfect for drinking, late-night swims, clandestine encounters and the ceremony itself.

The crux of the matter is that the groom, Tom (Josh Duhamel), has over the years been desired by the bride, Lila (Anna Paquin), and her maid of honor, Laura (Katie Holmes). Looks like Lila won -- but has she?

It might have been smart if like-manner melodramas hovered over other wedding guests. Niederhoffer tries to produce some by filling her characters with an astonishing amount of liquor to loosen libidos and tongues. But because one has barely met these people, one can't always grasp what's at stake if one party member wanders off with another.

The film more or less belongs to Holmes (who also executive produces). This seems to be her journey, even though she's only an honored guest. Paquin's character sparks to life late in the film, perhaps too late. Nothing Duhamel does can garner much audience sympathy. Dude, you had your choice of two hot women and so you made it. What's your problem?

In one of the film's better lines, a buddy, disdainfully watching him struggle with his tie, asks, "Having trouble tying the knot?" Tom never has a good response to that question, which in one form or another gets asked throughout the movie.

Drinking begins early, at the rehearsal dinner, overseen by the bride's wary mother (Candice Bergen). It never really abates. As the old college friends continue imbibing inside and out -- in a guesthouse, an attic, on the beach and in the nearby woods -- friendships are put to the test. Holmes has her moments as the ultimate bad party guest. There just isn't enough depth in this role to do justice to the inner turmoil she nicely expresses. Paquin has only one memorable scene, and Duhamel struggles to make sense of the groom's dithering.

So one enjoys "Romantics" for the genre trappings -- the inebriated toasts, feverish gossiping, unexpected trysts, the de rigueur wedding dress snafu and bright lines that cut through the mood of sentimentality and nostalgia.

Niederhoffer, long a denizen of New York's indie filmmaking scene, has chosen a rather tired genre with which to make her directing debut. She gets energy and laughs out of the prenuptial mayhem but nothing one haven't seen before. Let's hope in her next effort she breaks a few molds rather than embraces them.

Venue: Sundance Film Festival
Production: Team Todd/Plum Pictures/Benaroya Pictures
Cast: Katie Holmes, Josh Duhamel, Anna Paquin, Adam Brody, Malin Ackerman, Elijah Wood, Candice Bergen
Director-screenwriter: Galt Niederhoffer
Based on a novel by: Galt Niederhoffer
Producers: Daniela Taplin Lundberg, Jennifer Todd, Suzanne Todd, Michael Benaroya, Taylor Kephart, Galt Niederhoffer
Executive producers: Katie Holmes, Riva Marker, Celine Rattray, Pamela Hirsch, Ron Stein
Director of photography: Sam Levy
Production designer: Tim Grimes
Costume designer: Danielle Kays
Editor: Jacob Craycroft
No rating, 93 minutes