Playing It Cool
dir Justin Reardon
scr Chris Shafer, Paul Vicknair
prd McG, Mary Viola, Craig J Flores
with Chris Evans, Michelle Monaghan, Topher Grace, Aubrey Plaza, Luke Wilson, Martin Starr, Ioan Gruffudd, Philip Baker Hall, Anthony Mackie, Patrick Warburton, Ashley Tisdale, Matthew Morrison
release UK 2.Mar.15, US 8.May.15
14/US 1h34
Playing It Cool
In the friend zone: Evans and Monaghan

grace plaza wilson
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Playing It Cool Snappy and smart, this meta-comedy centres on a screenwriter reluctantly attempting to write a romantic comedy while he's actually living one. Yes, it's all rather knowing and overwritten, with lots of visual flourishes and slightly zany performances. But the enjoyably heightened approach at least undermines the corny plot.

When a producer (Mackie) asks him to write a rom-com, the screenwriter (Evans) balks, only agreeingt because he'll get to write an action movie afterward. He consults his best friend Scott (Grace) and their snarky fellow writer pals (Plaza, Wilson, Starr), but their suggestions aren't very helpful. Then he meets a woman (Monaghan) who shares his cynical world view but already has a boyfriend (Gruffudd). And the screenwriter is surprised to discover that he enjoys hanging out with her even if there's no promise of anything more. Although he begins to want that too.

The two central characters are never named, but Evans and Monaghan give them plenty of sparky personality, which is somewhat muddled by having them also appear in a vast range of flashbacks, fantasy sequences, historical re-enactments and silly asides. Essentially, Evans' writer is jaded because his mother abandoned him, while Monaghan's character is seeking security. Obviously, since neither is looking for love, it sneaks up on them when they're least expecting it. Which means that there isn't an unpredictable moment in the film.

But then, the filmmakers are playing merrily with each cliche in the rom-com genre, and these hackneyed touches flood every scene along with Evans' ubiquitous over-explaining voiceover. They also pack the screen with gimmicky effects, wacky sight gags and eye-catching details. While Evans and Monaghan have a solid spark of chemistry, the rest of the cast has a great time trying to steal scenes from them. And their random antics and sardonic comments are genuinely funny.

But by trying to subvert every formulaic element, the film begins to feel derivative and draggy. It's also somewhat smug and overwritten, as virtually every line is a carefully crafted expression of razor-sharp wit. Which isn't particularly surprising for a darkly comical film about a writer. Much more interesting are the themes woven in beneath the silliness, exploring that feeling that love is so easy for everyone but you. And that you'll never find someone unless you can face up to the most basic questions about yourself.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 3.Mar.15

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