Fall in love with indie romcoms

TRUE LOVE: Radcliffe and Kazan star in What If, one of many small-budget romantic comedies hitting the silver screen as indie film-makers and distributors fill a marketplace void left by the big studios.


    Aug 07, 2014

    Fall in love with indie romcoms


    CALL it "When Harry Potter Met Sally".

    In his first romantic comedy, Daniel Radcliffe plays the nonwizardly Wallace, a medical school dropout whose heart goes ka-boom for a hipster gal. The only problem is that she already has a boyfriend.

    The film, What If, then explores a question: Can two people with clear chemistry just be best friends?

    What If, co-starring Zoe Kazan and featuring Adam Driver (HBO's Girls), does not attempt a wholesale reinvention of the troubled romantic comedy genre. But the movie also represents an effort by independent film not to give up on it, either, the way the big studios have.

    Instead, a smattering of aspiring young directors and writers are taking the form and tinkering, twisting and turning it inside out to instil freshness.

    "People are not tired of romantic comedies," Radcliffe said in a telephone interview. "They are tired of manipulative, cheap and sappy films filled with big romantic gestures that never happen in real life, ever."

    Consider the batch of quirky romcoms joining the generally well-reviewed What If in cinemas. Life After Beth tries to shake up the genre by adding some light horror - the girlfriend, played by Aubrey Plaza, turns out to be a zombie.

    The One I Love pairs Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss as a married couple experiencing a highly unusual, almost supernatural weekend getaway. (To say more would be a spoiler.)

    Two Night Stand is the directing debut of Max Nichols - the son of Mike Nichols - and tells the story of a quick romp extended by a freak snowstorm.

    Already playing are They Came Together, an Amy Poehler-Paul Rudd spoof of romantic comedy cliches, and Obvious Child, a comedic romance centred on, of all things, an abortion.

    Coming this fall is Lynne Shelton's Laggies, which finds the woman (Keira Knightley), and not the man, stuck in permanent adolescence.

    This crush of small-budget romantic comedies is no accident. Independent filmmakers and distributors have spotted a marketplace void.

    The big studios, scarred by flops like How Do You Know and Confessions Of A Shopaholic, are retreating from this genre. They have released only one full-fledged romcom this year: Blended, from Warner Bros, a US$45 million (S$56 million) dud co-starring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore.

    But in indie land, where movies are produced for as little as a few hundred thousand dollars, even modest ticket sales can be a home run. A distribution company focused on young and arty viewers, A24 Films, is doing cartwheels over the response to Obvious Child, an R-rated film that makes light of a third-rail subject.

    The so-called abortion comedy has taken in about US$3 million since arriving in late June. It cost about US$500,000 to make.

    "These films work when they are honest," said David Fenkel, a founder of A24, which will release the R-rated Laggies in October.

    All of these new romantic comedies work hard to avoid formulas that have had success in the past, but became so overused that audiences started to roll their eyes: the reformed playboy (50 First Dates), the race to the airport (How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days), the bickering lovebirds (You've Got Mail) and the career woman in a ridiculous romantic circumstance (The Proposal).

    Radcliffe said he was drawn to What If partly because it rejects the grand romantic gesture. For instance, when Wallace flies to Ireland at the spur of the moment to profess his love for the vacationing Chantry (Kazan), she responds not with a gooey embrace, but with outrage.

    "There's something that's so refreshingly real about that response," Radcliffe said. "It's not romantic to stalk someone across an ocean. It's creepy."