*This review was originally published at Movie Mezzanine.
"I should have gotten a haircut,” the mop-headed Luke Matheny said to uproarious laughter upon winning the 2011 Academy Award for Best Live Action Short for God of Love. That line exhibited the same kind of quirky allure that likely gained the whimsical, black-and-white short its golden statue. The film is about a crooner and darting champion who faces difficulty in attracting the girl of his dreams. Played with a goofy sense of naiveté by the big-haired Matheny and infused with a subplot involving magic, God of Love’s simple look at romance was quite charming. Four years later, Matheny delivers his feature film debut with Lovesick, which stars Matt LeBlanc as another man who has everything in his life but love. But Matheny struggles to stretch that brief but potent whimsy into feature length. Underserved by a paper-thin script and tepid humor, and stripped of any fantastical elements that could conceal the premise’s childishness, Lovesick is as disappointing a return as one can imagine for this formerly auspicious young filmmaker.
LeBlanc plays Charlie Darby, an elementary school principal who is a true American hero in the eyes of the students. Charlie is funny, loving, and compassionate. Everything in his life seems to be going well, but his luck with women is rotten and all his past relationships have ended in bitter breakups. Charlie, with his disarming smile and graying hair, is ripe for settling down—a notion that the film will not stop verbalizing ad nauseum in its opening minutes.
But at this stage in life, Charlie has decided never to fall in love again and only spend time with women he doesn’t find attractive. Thus, Lovesick launches an avalanche of putrid and contrived comedic set-pieces—the most egregious of which is a painfully unfunny and grotesque scene where his companion at a wedding – a woman who has no issues discussing her bowel movements loudly in public – happens to be racist; she calls the brown waiters “Bin Laden” and pats them down in search for bombs. After this charade, Lovesick moves on to the inevitable: as Charlie reiterates to his best friend that he has given up on romance, the perfect woman appears in the form of Molly (Ali Larter). And because no romantic-comedy cliché can be left untouched, no matter how heinously misogynistic it is, she happens to be a woman whose life needs saving by a man. Charlie seizes the opportunity to become Prince Charming.
Molly isn’t written with anything resembling a character. She’s incredibly attractive and is in between jobs and that’s more or less all we are told about her. Lest you think this lethargically sketched female lead is Lovesick’s only lazy rom-com trope, the creepy older acquaintance who happens to be a relationship guru also shows up in the shape of Chevy Chase’s porn-watching, hall-wandering neighbor. Other examples appear aplenty, but writing about them here would afford them more attention than the film does.
Quite frustratingly, Matheny’s film never justifies why Molly would stick around with someone as flawed as Charlie, whose jealousy issues are freakish, to the point of traveling thousands of miles after her to Italy in secrecy, only to search her belongings for suspicious items. This is initially cute and appears to be a remnant of his past romantic failures, yet, as the film progresses, jealousy becomes a repetitive plot point stretched well beyond what any reasonable member of the audience can consider funny or even tolerable. Charlie’s suspicions concern a variety of men with whom she has only normal or even no interactions. These series of events, fueled by his distrust, form the third act of the film and become so outlandish that at one point, when Charlie accuses Molly of having a fling with Dr. Oz (yes! That Dr. Oz), even she complains about the exhausting state of the film: “How did we did end up on this weird tangent?”
This overbearing repetition of events would have been forgivable had the film been amusing or subtle in any way, but that is sadly never the case—and the plot is neither interesting nor fresh. Worse yet, Lovesick’s expositions of its stale ideas are overbearingly on-the-nose, both thematically – early in the film, an attempt at conveying Molly’s dainty femininity involves the camera literally pausing on her in a delicate ballet pose, which she holds until Charlie’s gaze is over – and in its comic expressions – a long-winded gag involving Charlie asking for a sweatshirt at a party ends, after minutes, in the only possible outcome that the audience can foresee within mere seconds: Charlie sweating heavily to the amusement of others at the table. This is as bad as the generic Hollywood romantic comedy gets, a predictable film with no humor, where the plot revolves around one mediocre man and the incomprehensible fact that an otherwise perfect woman is somehow totally in love with him. It’s not love that is sick—it’s the fact that Matheny ended a four-year wait to return to filmmaking with such a disposable, banal project.