Last night, I seemed to be in A Mood (yes, it deserves capital letters), and I couldn't face the idea of watching a movie I knew would piss me off, which meant my Bad Romantic Comedy project was a no-go, but I was afraid to go for an unknown quantity. One of the reasons I buy movies I've already seen (and reread books) is that there are times when you need just the right thing, and getting something that seems like it might be right but turns out to be wrong can ruin everything. The only safe approach is going with a known quantity. Since I highlighted it in my list, since I hadn't watched it in ages, and since I needed a movie just that length, I decided to watch The Very Thought of You (the original title that's on the DVD cover shown on the IMDB page is Martha -- Meet Frank, Daniel, and Laurence).
The story's about three guys who have been best friends since childhood. Now they've grown up to be a superficial big-shot music producer (Tom Hollander) and a former child star turned embittered unemployed actor (Rufus Sewell) who now resent/disrespect each other and the nice-guy peacemaker caught in the middle (Joseph Fiennes and His Amazing Eyelashes). Their friendship is strained, perhaps to the breaking point, when all three of them independently meet and fall in love with the same woman (Monica Potter), an American who got fed up with her life, went to the airport and bought the first ticket she could afford to go anywhere else -- and ended up in London. What makes this film unique is the story structure because we see it play out from the perspectives of each of the three guys, and it isn't until we see the last story that we find out what's really been going on all along. It's not a Rashomon kind of thing with subjective viewpoints. What we see is the objective truth. We're just limited to the information each guy has at that time. The first two stories take place more or less sequentially, but the third story overlaps the first two and fills in the gaps. It's hard to talk about it without telling which guy of the three is Mr. Right, but then that's pretty obvious even from the start of the movie, since it's told in a framing story with the Joseph Fiennes character telling all this to his psychiatrist neighbor (Ray Winstone).
So, rating it as a romantic comedy, I'll first tackle the "is it romantic?" question. I think so, though the romance comes later in the film and isn't at all your typical movie romance. For one thing, this isn't any kind of "opposites attract" thing that involves lots of bickering and witty banter. This romance is the rare case in movies of the two people being absolutely perfect for each other from the start. They're soulmates. They have a tendency to say the same things (like he'll say a line we previously heard her say before they even met) and can finish each other's sentences within hours of meeting. They figure out pretty quickly that this is IT. The romantic conflict comes from the friends, with him having to wrestle with the dilemma of choosing loyalty to his lifelong friends or being with this woman he's just met but who may be the love of his life -- and then him having to deal with the fallout when she discovers that the three guys pursuing her know each other, and she has to wonder how real any of it is. I find it very refreshing to see a relationship where they're obviously compatible and it's things outside the relationship that cause the problems, and it means I'm really pulling for them to work it out and get together -- and I think it will work out for them even after the cameras stop rolling.
On the "is it funny?" side, it's more of a wry sense of amusement rather than a lot of big, comic scenes. A lot of the humor comes from the characters. The two friends are rather ridiculous, and it's fun to see how unimpressed she is with their antics that they think are guaranteed seduction. The entire opening sequence involves the over-the-top things the music producer does to try to get closer to her and the way her common sense foils them all (and in ways that undermine a lot of romantic comedy tropes -- she acts like a real person would act here, not like a romantic comedy heroine). I've never thought of Rufus Sewell as funny. He's generally more the smoldering type, but he plays on that typecasting here to show how ridiculous that smoldering, bitter actor type can be. I think most of the laugh-out-loud moments are from him. Joseph Fiennes is mostly the straight man, but he gets a subtle kind of funny as his frustration builds to the breaking point even as the surge of emotions leaves him totally frozen and inarticulate. His scenes with the neighbor as he tells the story are some of the funniest in the movie, and I think the biggest laugh in the movie goes to Ray Winstone in one of those scenes. It's also surprising just how funny it can be when two people who are perfect for each other find each other. They become total dorks with the giddiness of that and with the way they're totally in sync without realizing it. You probably won't laugh until you cry, but you'll smile a lot.
I first saw this movie on TV on a weekend afternoon, either on some cable channel or on a local station back in the day when the local stations would air something other than infomercials when they weren't airing a network sporting event on weekend afternoons. Because of that story structure, it's the kind of movie you want to rewatch once you know what was going on, but it was impossible to find. I finally found a VHS copy at a used bookstore. I don't think it got much of a theatrical release because I'd never heard of it until it came on TV, and normally I'd be all over a British romantic comedy starring Joseph Fiennes and His Amazing Eyelashes (yes, they deserve equal billing). I do wonder why he hasn't become a bigger star. I think he's better looking than his more famous brother. He's been in some big films (for crying out loud, he was Shakespeare in Shakespeare in Love), and he seems to be a really talented actor. I guess he's mostly stayed busy on the British stage and has avoided the limelight, so he's probably happier that way, but it limits my opportunities to be spellbound by The Amazing Eyelashes (seriously, those eyelashes are incredible. He must have had to learn to synchronize his blinking and walking so he doesn't trip. I hope he doesn't wear glasses or they'll be constantly smudged).
There is a kind of rough, low-budget quality to this film, but for me, it scratches my romantic comedy itches while breaking most of the romantic comedy molds, and that's a real achievement. Now I need to see if I can find this on DVD because I think my VHS tape is disintegrating.
And now today I'm off to see Brave with some friends.