Netflix’s newest romantic comedy, Love, Guaranteed, leans heavily on conventions of the genre, but is so fun that I forgive its clichés. In the movie, Rachel Leigh Cook plays Susan, a lawyer with a heart of gold who takes the case of Nick (Damon Wayans Jr), a former athlete suing Love Guaranteed, an online dating company, because he did not find love after one-thousand dates. The dating company is owned by a lifestyle guru (Heather Graham) clearly based on Gwyneth Paltrow and Goop. Susan lives in half of a duplex owned by her sister and brother-in-law and the associates at her law firm are quirky and devoted to her beyond reason. There’s a lot of feel-good silliness at work in the whole movie.
The most blatant genre trope at work is the idea that Susan is such a workaholic that she doesn’t have time to date. She’s never even been on a dating app. Yada, yada. Everyone acts like there is something weird about her checking her work emails on her phone first thing in the morning and last thing at night. Netflix, that is just being a Millennial. Moving on. What is more fun is her beat up old car that has a door handle that won’t stay on and has a Tiffany tape stuck in the player. At first, the gag was obviously borrowed from How I Met Your Mother, but ultimately the joke lands pretty well. This movie feels like an old friend. It is not exactly self-aware about how much it uses romcom tropes, but it deploys them so well that I thoroughly enjoyed the movie.
Speaking of old friends, it was a stroke of genius to cast Rachel Leigh Cook, who most people know from the classic teen romcom She’s All That. She is charming and fun in this more adult role and her chemistry with Damon Wayans Jr. works well enough that I was willing to go along with the more cheesy lines. Heather Graham’s performance is pretty cringy, but since she’s the bad guy, it is acceptable.
In such a rough year, there was something so comforting about a good old fashioned romcom and Love, Guaranteed delivers that well. It’s not a great movie by any means, but it was a nice little snack.
In contrast, Netflix also has a new musical, The Prom, which features an all-star cast in a contrived, cliched story about a group of Broadway stars who take a bus to small-town Indiana to help a gay teenager, Emma (Jo Ellen Pellman), when her school’s PTA cancels prom because she wants to take another girl to the dance.
The Prom is terrible. Terrible. It has a definite watchable quality, kind of like the Mama Mia! movies, but it is not very much fun. The songs sound like any generic musical from the last twenty years. I would have been more understanding if the film were a parody, but it is also very self-important about its message on inclusivity. There are some zippy lines tossed in—one song begins “Note to self, don’t be gay in Indiana”—but most of the time it is hard to listen to the lyrics because the music is so mind-numbingly familiar.
There are quite a few pot-shots at the Midwest, which is not entirely surprising considering that director Ryan Murphy’s big break was Glee, set in Ohio. Nevertheless, the cracks are tired clichés that bolster a conflict that feels a little cartoonish at times. Some of the jokes are fine, like when actor Barry Glickman (James Corden) offers to take Emma to Saks to find a prom dress and she responds that they don’t have Saks, but there’s a K-Mart. Glickman’s confusion, however, makes little sense considering that his character is from Ohio.
I am not entirely sure how this movie got so many big stars—Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, and Kerry Washington, to name three—but their performances are as bad as the writing. Their work as Broadway stars on a PR mission to boost their careers is so over the top and hackneyed it was hard to believe how many Oscars and Emmys they have between them. In one scene Meryl Streep straight up slips into her Julia Child voice.
The Prom is a fine movie to watch in that “so bad it’s good” way, but I am not convinced it fully turns that corner to being fun to watch. Yikes.