'Literally, Right Before Aaron': Film Review

Courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival
Too spiritually in sync with its passive, wishy-washy protagonist.
9/29/2017

Actor Ryan Eggold's writing/directing debut is about a sad sack (Justin Long) who wishes he could derail his old girlfriend's wedding.

The notion that true love can survive a relationship's death, being reborn through some grand gesture — run to that airport, kid! — is one of the lies upon which the Romantic-Comedic Industrial Complex is built. Sure, it happens in real life on occasion. Or so we've heard. But in general, reconciliations are just an opportunity to break up again in a new, likely more painful, way.

The protagonist of Ryan Eggold's Literally, Right Before Aaron probably knows this, deep down — which would explain the namby-pamby way he pursues his supposed rom-com destiny, traveling to attend his ex-girlfriend's wedding and vaguely hoping that maybe it will all fall apart. If only he plays his cards right. And waits. And waits. Justin Long, whose career was built on mild likeability, suffers for that mildness here, in a film that flounders right along with him. Despite the comedic talent in its cast and a few moments of charm, the picture is as unsatisfying for viewers as the action is for those onscreen.

A year and a half ago, Long's Adam split with his girlfriend of eight years, Allison (Cobie Smulders). They were the college couple everyone assumed would be together forever, but at some point (we assume), Allison started wanting a forward motion Adam didn't see the need for. Both moved on and started other relationships. But only when he learns that hers is leading to wedding vows does Adam realize how unmoored his own life is.

He goes to dinner with his current girlfriend and suffers the kind of collapse that might set this film on track for cringe-and-cower hilarity: In pain over the news he just got, he's talking about marriage when she mistakes his yammering for a proposal. He goes with it, making a "yeah, why shouldn't we?!" case for tying the knot; but as soon as she has gotten her bearings and said yes, he realizes what he's done, and breaks up with her just as clumsily.

The direction and editing here lacks the comic finesse to put its fine idea across, and the film takes an awfully long time before it works its way up to a confrontation with similar potential. Having agreed to attend the wedding, Adam goes down to San Francisco, where he participates in all the usual social rituals — including spending some solo time with Aaron (Ryan Hansen), the groom to be. (The pic's awkward title is telling us: No, literally, Adam is the guy who dated Allison right before Aaron! Can you believe it?!)

Aaron is a straw man: Tan and toothy, almost a pro tennis player, he's a fictional construct designed to earn our disdain. But God, is Adam supposed to be better? We look, in grainy flashbacks, at scenes of his long, happy years with Allison, and we might want to console him for what he lost. But based on his aimless, passive behavior here, we can't in good conscience encourage him to think he's going to win her back.

Adam winds up at the wedding with an extravagantly awkward date (Kristen Schaal), the "anything's better than going stag" suggestion of Adam's best friend (John Cho). And the nuptial celebration drags on in what feels like real time, digging into Adam's deteriorating emotional state until he erupts in implausible bad behavior.

Like her character, Smulders maintains a mature, tolerant air throughout. But that gets hard to justify once Eggold's script turns the festivities into mayhem, sending the three principals out onto the street and pointing Adam toward an allusion to The Graduate that, given the way this film is going, might not have been the wisest choice. In real life, this kind of trainwreck is probably even less common than the run-through-the-rain reunion that results in a lifetime of wedded bliss. That doesn't mean it doesn't deserve to be imagined onscreen. But it should probably be livelier, if we're expected to go along for the ride.

Production companies: Rizk Pictures, Is The Reel
Distributor: Screen Media Films
Cast: Justin Long, Cobie Smulders, Ryan Hansen, John Cho, Kristen Schaal, Dana Delany, Peter Gallagher, Lea Thompson, Luis Guzman
Director-screenwriter-editor: Ryan Eggold
Producers: Cassandra Kulukundis, Ryan Eggold, Alexandra Rizk Keane, Nancy Leopardi, Ross Kohn
Director of photography: Seamus Tierney
Production designer: Callie Andreadis
Costume designer: Annie Jewell
Composers: Ryan Eggold, David Goldman

100 minutes

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