Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This month: The A.V. Club atones for its sins of omission, recommending the best movies of the year that we didn’t review.
The romantic comedy gets little love these days, and with understandable reason—its happily-ever-after formulas have grown so stale that it’s difficult to find much life amidst its predictable, robotic twists and turns. Playing It Cool does not dispense with the genre’s favorite clichés, and in fact, it embraces them wholeheartedly, from the charming hunk who’s more comfortable with one-night stands than commitment, to said protagonist serendipitously discovering his one-true-love, to the off-color banter with a group of wisecracking friends (in this case, Anthony Mackie, Topher Grace, Martin Starr, Aubrey Plaza, Luke Wilson, and Philip Baker Hall). Justin Reardon’s film is, on the face of it, just like the many other rom-coms that flood the multiplex each year. And yet despite its wholesale familiarity, it’s that rare effort that properly delivers the funny-and-amorous goods, thanks in large part to two headliners—Chris Evans and Michelle Monaghan—with enough winning charisma, spot-on comedic timing, and natural chemistry to help invigorate its commonplace material.
Driven by its main character’s confessional narration, Playing It Cool comes replete with a meta twist, as it charts Evans’ unnamed screenwriter (known as “Me”) as he attempts, at the urging of his agent, to write a romantic comedy—a task complicated by the fact that Evans’ Me has never been in love, and probably doesn’t believe in it. That all changes when he meets Monaghan’s “Her” and, though she’s engaged to a stuffy fiancé (Ioan Gruffudd), he proceeds to pursue her, first by stalking her at various philanthropic luncheons, and then at her home.
While at times a bit strained, Me’s constant talk about rom-com conventions gives the proceedings a welcome self-conscious jolt, just as its incessant aesthetic touches—fantasy sequences, fractured plotting, animation—and flip-flopping of traditional gender roles (Me is the love-struck obsessive, Her is the voice of reason) help put a new spin on the meet-cute action. Far better still, though, is Evans’ lead performance. As a character whose self-absorption is so rampant that he should immediately come across as off-putting, the Captain America actor infuses Me with such witty, sarcastic, self-deprecating personality that he carries the film over any been-here, done-that lulls—and, in the process, shows that nothing quite sells a rom-com like a bona fide movie star.
Availability: Playing It Cool is available on DVD from Netflix or possibly your local video store/library. It can also be rented or purchased from the major digital services.