Some Kind Of Beautiful is a romantic comedy that initially sets out to reclaim the old poetic definition of “romance.” By the end, the movie succumbs to the conventions of the genre, and rushes to pair up its leads and reaffirm the necessity of couplehood—for the purposes of satisfying storytelling, if nothing else. But in the opening scenes, dashing literature professor Richard Haig (played by Pierce Brosnan) channels the spirit of his roguish father Gordon (Malcolm McDowell) and delivers a lecture to his class about how the Romantics were all about instinct and individualism, not about some idealized, Hallmark-penned celebration of love.
So when does it become clear that screenwriter Matthew Newman and Starter For 10 director Tom Vaughan aren’t as committed to the pursuit of truth, passion, and idiosyncrasy as their hero? Is it when Richard misuses the term “begs the question”? Or when Stephen Endelman’s score kicks in with its generic “this is fun” plucked strings and accordion, all timed to the characters’ gestures? Maybe the filmmakers’ original sin was changing the title from the memorable How To Make Love Like An Englishman to something that has no real connection to the material (or much meaning in general).
Some Kind Of Beautiful’s plot is geared toward comeuppance. When one of Richard’s frequent dalliances with a grad student leads to a baby, he attempts to reform, and moves with the mother, Kate (Jessica Alba), to the United States—where she quickly dumps him for a younger, richer man. In danger of being deported and losing visitation rights with his son, Richard hustles to land a good job and to hire an immigration attorney who can sell the idea that he and Kate are still together. But an untimely DUI conviction and an unexpected fling with Kate’s sister, Olivia (Salma Hayek), threaten to wipe away his glib, libertine approach to life.
As soon as all the major players are introduced, Some Kind Of Beautiful’s course is well set—and especially once the formerly unrepentant chauvinist Gordon shows up in America and starts cooing over his grandson, proving that anyone’s capable of change. Frankly, it’s not even that essential that Newman and Vaughan fill their movie with surprises, given that one of the great pleasures of rom-coms is how their pieces snap into place.
Still, the best of the bunch usually have some reason for being, beyond just connecting dots. They offer keen observations about modern life, or at least witty repartee between charming actors. Some Kind Of Beautiful has a fine cast, but they’re stuck doing shtick. Hayek delivers a sub-stand-up routine about the various kinds of noises men make during sex. Brosnan gives a speech at an AA meeting defending the drinking habits of the English. These are meant to be boffo bits, but no amount of sprightly strings on the soundtrack can make them punchy enough.
In the end though, what’s most irritating about this movie is how it sells out the Romantics. Both Haigs originally interpret poetry in shallow and self-serving ways, but at least they’re trying to defy convention a little. But after Richard starts to see the error of his post-middle-age ways, he turns the biography of Lord Byron into a bland “follow your dream” pep talk to his class. He may as well be any other stereotypical cinematic professor, distilling every lesson plan into an anodyne “carpe diem.”