In Woody Allen’s seminal 1977 comedic romance Annie Hall, Alvy Singer, in an attempt to make sense of why his seemingly impervious relationship failed, approaches a couple on the street and asks how they account for their shared happiness.
The woman answers, “Uh, I’m very shallow and empty and I have no ideas and nothing interesting to say.” Then the man follows up, “And I’m exactly the same way.”
It’s as if the creative teams behind two mutually reprehensible relationship-centric films opening this weekend, Jeremiah S. Chechik’s The Right Kind of Wrong and JP Allen’s Love and Demons, took the above exchange literally and not as the incisive smackdown it’s so clearly intended to be. Spawned from disparate loins but soulmates in their vapidity, both films fall under the heading of “romantic comedy” by default, even though their stances on romance and comedy are so far removed from those concepts’ basic definitions, they’re practically the product of extra-terrestrial beings.
Opening in limited theatrical release and on demand, The Right Kind of Wrong is skeletally standard rom-com fare about a man-child forced to grow up while in pursuit of a woman he inexplicably falls for, but its incessant self-reflexive schematic boldly, and wrongfully, suggests it has bigger ideas and more declarative statements to make about love and relationships.
When Leo (Ryan Kwanten) first sees Colette (Sara Canning), she’s punting a runaway football in her wedding dress minutes before she’s pronounced to that stock rom-com villain; the rich, tall and toothy heartless live-action Gaston who doesn’t deserve the female protagonist’s affection and must see his true smeary colors before the credits roll. When Colette drops that football, the moment is important because it’s in slow motion, with dramatic music blaring, and is inter-spliced with extreme close-ups of Leo’s stunned, slack-jawed reaction as he falls hastily in love with her. The sequence is exaggerated, we later learn, because characters (via screenwriter Megan Martin, adapting from Tim Sandlin’s novel “Sex and Sunsets”) freely address moments like this throughout, as if to satisfy any and all questions the audience might have about their absurdity. This becomes the film’s decidedly essayistic formula, deconstructing itself within itself, but isn’t nearly sophisticated or funny enough to properly send up its rom-com targets, and instead dissipates as merely one of them. It’s a strong case for the notion that meta does not equal clever.
This bizarre format allows Leo to pursue the newlywed Colette in a disconcertingly aggressive way. He openly stalks her, even with the help of Colette’s mother (Catherine O’Hara, fine but out of place) who doesn’t seem to mind that Leo is clearly suffering psychological damage. It’s a wonder the words “restraining order” are never uttered, but this is ultimately a world in which “lovesick” is as serious a diagnosis as Leo is likely to receive. The weird wooing begins after Leo has become “a major pop culture reference” in the wake of his ex-wife’s blog entitled “Why He Sucks”, of which he is the main subject. When the popular blog balloons into a bestselling book, his presence and thus shortcomings are only amplified. But his most queasy qualities on display aren’t included in his ex-wife’s cheap tome of shame, and are hardly accounted for by the exhaustively overwrought script. The Right Kind of Wrong is filled with men idolizing the objects of their desire, worshipping them based on the things they do, and not on any genuine connection or conversation they share. Leo falls for Colette based on the kick of a football. And honestly, what makes a woman more desirable to a man than her manliness?
But nothing in The Right Kind of Wrong is nearly as sexist or bafflingly anachronistic than just about everything in JP Allen’s latest vanity project Love and Demons. The San Francisco-based filmmaker (who also stars as a demon named, ahem, Mr. D.) is even more dogged about the dynamics and responsibilities of a relationship, though his perspective is more akin to the “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” variety, or an episode of “Married… with Children” to someone who couldn’t decipher the satire.
Mr. D., grey and goateed, looks like a lower-tier character in a Quentin Tarantino film, and spouts dialogue even that notoriously verbose director would feel the need to cut. The film opens with Mr. D. speaking directly to camera, sharing with us the “story of your life”, but it’s the story of clichés and archetypal characters in films no one seems to be making anymore. The story, centered around an unnamed couple (Chris Pflueger and Lucia Frangione) whose marriage troubles attract the attention of their respective demons — he gets Mr. D., while she’s welcomed by, ahem, Ms. D. (Arnica Skulstad Brown). The demons first appear to be aiding the man and woman in rediscovering their spark, but it’s soon revealed that they have different, more sinister agendas, the reasons for which are never explained.
Not one for subtext, Allen’s demons are obviously manifestations of what he believes plagues a relationship at one point or another. They encourage cheating, substance abuse, even murder. But the narrative seems to be an excuse for Allen to don a dark suit and wield a gun, like any product of cinema in the mid-to-late ‘90s. Call it The Boondock Saints syndrome. Allen, clearly afflicted with B.S.S., echoes sentiments as outdated as gun-toting hitmen. Sample exchange:
“Sex isn’t love!” the woman shouts.
“Spoken like a true wife,” Mr. D. retorts.
The bay area locale ignites memories of The Room, Tommy Wiseau’s now infamous best-worst movie. Love and Demons isn’t quite as inept as that film (though Allen and Wiseau do share a penchant for oversized suit jackets), if only because Allen uses techniques that resemble cinematic ambition, while Wiseau comparatively had no concept of the medium. The closest Love and Demons gets to so-bad-it’s-good is when the man, an aspiring screenwriter, is continually shown sitting at an outdoor café writing his script longhand in a notepad. Similarly, Allen’s most notable aesthetic contribution in Love and Demons is also its most head-scratching, that of an interminable dance montage overlaid with blue and red solarization, a picture effect that appears as if the negative of a photograph has come to awkward life. I can confidently say that Tommy Wiseau would never have thought to employ that effect in one of his films. Wiseau 1, Allen 0.
It can be dangerous to make such overarching statements about relationships when the points of view are as provincial as in these two films, which are being released in the wake of achingly honest depictions of romance like Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue is the Warmest Color, a film impactful because of its ability to exemplify the universal aspects of love from within a very specific relationship. It shows instead of tells. Both The Right Kind of Wrong and Love and Demons don’t just eschew showing for telling. They taunt.