The absurdity of romance is rife for cinematic exploration, providing a range of experiences that not everyone has to necessarily go through to deeply identify with. Random Acts of Romance takes the approach of following multiple overlapping storylines to depict a wide swath romantic interaction. Director Katrin Bowen takes the opportunity to go the extra mile by playing both ends of the tonal spectrum: the serious, emotionally honest aspects of love, as well as wild comic absurdities that serve to inform that honesty.
Before they begin interacting and overlapping, there are three main stories in play. The first is about David (Robert Mulroney) and Holly (Laura Bertram), a young, recently married couple. David is a successful businessman, but his marriage isn’t off to the best start. While he loves Holly, and she loves him, it’s clear that she’s not fulfilled in their relationship. She’s basically a housewife, but too young and with a drive to do something more.
The second story— the best, and something of an inverse of David and Holly—is about Dianne (Amanda Tapping) and Matt (Zak Santiago). Dianne is a good deal older than Matt, and while they appear to have a wild sexual chemistry, the age difference, and some buried resentments over how their relationship began, is causing problems. Even more a source of strain, though, is the gap in maturity. Dianne holds a steady job, but Matt lazes around the house, providing very little except for his cooking, which Dianne can’t stand anyway.
Finally, there’s Richard (Ted Whittall), David’s business associate, and Lynn (Sonja Bennett), David’s secretary. Richard is an extreme womanizer and a chauvinist of the worst kind. When he shows up for a meeting with David, he flirts a little bit with Lynn, who is instantly dumbfounded and falls madly in lust. That lust inspires her to become a stalker, growing more and more hilariously crazy as the film goes, but also opening Richard up emotionally in the process.
The structural conceit of the film in the beginning is to tell one story, then jump back in time and show the next, and repeated once more, and then to slowly mix them and eventually have them converge. Most of the convergences are interesting, but the best comes halfway through when Matt, in an attempt to make some money and win back Dianne, decides to kidnap Lynn. What could’ve been a terribly dark plot, becomes the funniest and most heartwarming in the film, mostly due to Matt’s haplessness.
Random Acts of Romance is clearly a low budget film, and the seams are definitely there. It doesn’t look all that great, and the editing often values the more gimmicky elements of the film’s structure over its more simple heart. But that heart is there, especially there in some of the performances, mostly notably Santiago’s. He’s effortlessly charming, selling the film’s best comedic plot with ease and never losing the audience to its darker implications.
Bowen does a good job of keep the film steady through its tonal shifts and wisely appealing to the heartfelt nature of its stories and characters. It’s frank in places, funny in many others, and gives off warmth that’s often lacking in the genre as of late. The structural gambit of the film is perhaps a little too playful for its own good, but as the film comes together in its second half, it gels to the point of making it all worthwhile.
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