'No Stranger Than Love'
Quirkiness is a dangerous quality to lean on in contemporary comedies, particularly those of the romantic variety. Ten to fifteen years ago, it was all the rage. Unfortunately, like all cinematic trends, quirk quickly got overplayed and now a generation of lost souls need to feel guilty about that time they actually enjoyed ‘Garden State’. The new comedy ‘No Stranger Than Love’ feels like it’s been sitting on a shelf since roughly 2006, even though it was produced last year.
The candy-colored quirk fest feels like a cross between an annoying grade school friend trying way too hard to be liked and an over-ambitious short story from a high schooler who has some, like, totally deep things about love that desperately need to be written on paper. The whole thing is pretty hard to sit through even as it strives desperately to be easygoing light-hearted entertainment.
The consistently underserved Alison Brie stars as Lucy, a small town high school teacher whose perky perfection makes her the adoring crush of every person with a penis in her immediate surroundings. After yet another day of smiling off the advances of all the dudes all the time, Lucy finally makes plans to meet up with the one guy she wants to get naked with, high school football coach Clint (Colin Hanks). Unfortunately, he’s married, and the moment Lucy announces her love for the geeky jock, a mysterious hole opens in her living room floor that traps Clint in some sort of nether realm. Lucy panics, unsure of what to do, and spends the next day desperately searching for rope and dodging questions. A dark stranger named Rydell (Justin Chatwin from ‘Shameless’) shows up at the same time, dressed entirely in black to heighten his mysterious nature. The truth is that he’s actually a sweetheart and only the colorful Lucy can see it. In the world of quirky rom-coms, that means that true love is afoot!
‘No Stranger Than Love’ is a strained project from the start and plays like a long rambling joke with no punchline told by an elderly relative who means well. No rational explanation is ever given for the hole. We’re just supposed to accept it as a wacky contrivance that’s so fun because it’s, like, so random, you guys! Perhaps there’s a way to play this that would feel amusingly off-kilter, but neither longtime comedy writer Steve Adams (‘Donny and Marie’) nor first-time director Nick Wernham ever quite find the right tone. Instead, they merely Xerox the style and big moments from previously successful quirky comedies, hoping that familiarity will force out laughs and charm that they couldn’t deliver. It doesn’t work, especially when the movie blatantly knocks off the “Scream out your emotions” scene from ‘Garden State’. That’s just embarrassing, cringe-worthy stuff. There’s no way for the movie to recover from there.
Performances across the board are mannered in a way that’s supposed to feel stylishly arched, but plays more like overacting. Sadly, that’s especially true of Alison Brie, a genuinely talented actress stuck with such a cardboard cut-out of a character that she tries to act extra hard to compensate. The visuals are bright and slick to the point of obnoxiousness, requiring audiences with any sense of cynicism or irony to wear sunglasses. The movie doesn’t have much narrative momentum, just a series of sketches strung together with irritating bouncy music to connect them and remind us all that this is at least theoretically a comedy.
By the time the story wraps up with not one, but three monologues about the true nature of love that the audience is somehow supposed to ingest sincerely, it’s hard not to want to throw items at the screen or vomit politely in your mouth.
This is a mess of a movie that might have at least felt passable a decade ago when it would have fit into a popular indie genre. Now it’s something that everyone involved will feel embarrassed about, even though they all intended it to be a calling card. On the bright side, ‘No Stranger Than Love’ has already begun a one-way trip to obscurity with no stops along the way. The only chance most people will see it is by accident. Thankfully, the filmmakers play their one shrill note so loudly from Frame 1 that it will be easy to dismiss within seconds. Remember the title only so that you don’t click on it by accident during a lazy weekend streaming session.