The romantic comedy is a genre currently flailing about, seemingly in its death throes for at least a decade, and apparently unable to recall the spark that made it one of the most vital genres in decades past. What was once the realm of Capra, Lubitsch, Wilder and Ephron, has become nothing more than a shell for hackneyed screenwriting and ugly filmmaking. Every year, several romantic comedies are released that dig the grave even deeper, and this year, Canadian cinema has made its own vile contribution with The Right Kind of Wrong.
It’s not so much that The Right Kind of Wrong is a disaster. Disasters are usually interesting to watch. Instead, the film is a perfect storm of mediocrity, built of every element dragging its genre down and wallowing in the worst, most crass and commercially minded signifiers the modern romantic comedy has to offer. It can’t be said that The Right Kind of Wrong is destroying cinema or anything so cataclysmic, but as an example of everything wrong with the current state of the romantic comedy, it’s particularly angering.
The plot, such as it is, follows Leo Palamino (Ryan Kwanten), a down-on-his-luck novelist whose ex-girlfriend starts a blog called “Why You Suck,” about all his failings, which goes on to become a massive phenomenon. Still in the depths of despair, Leo lays eyes on a woman, Colette (Sara Canning), and instantly falls in love. The only problem? Leo first sees Colette on her wedding day. Apparently uninterested in the legal implications of stalking, Leo does everything possible to insert himself in to the Colette’s life in order to convince her to leave her new husband.
The rest of the plot plays out in typically, infuriatingly predictable fashion, with Colette’s husband, Danny (Ryan McPartlin), proving to be an asshole, and Leo slowly worming his way into her heart. Hijinks ensue, as you’d expect, including a particularly silly subplot involving Leo getting over his extreme fear of heights in order to prove his ability to change.
Rounding out the cast, in supporting turns meant to sell as much of the comedy as possible, are Will Sasso and Catherine O’Hara. Both are game— in fact, most of the cast is pretty game—but the material gives them nothing but the most rote material to work with. This is true across the board. Even in the moments where the film attempts pathos, nothing about it works beyond obligatory box checking.
A few elements are more infuriating than the rest, though. The first of which is the stalking. In theory it’d be a fine trope to play with. A staple of romantic comedies of old, but woefully backwards in light of, you know, feminism and good sense. There might be room to use the plot for comical effect while maybe subverting it, but the film does no such thing, instead making Leo’s irresponsible and creepy actions into something noble by the end.
Then there’s the vulgarity. It doesn’t have to be the case, but vulgarity so often is the enemy of cleverness. It’s a shortcut to humour, and one made possible in recent years by the likes of Knocked Up. But where that film had great comedic actors riffing and one-upping each other with their vulgarity, The Right Kind of Wrong uses it most often either to shock a laugh out of the audience, or to prove it isn’t holding anything back. Unfortunately, nothing about this lazy method conveys genuine frankness. The subject matter is still glossed over no real insight at all.
There’s also the problem of racial humour. Leo works in a restaurant, for an Indian owner. The owner’s two young kids show up for a lot of comic relief, mostly owing to their “comically” surprising intelligence. It’s a joke well worn, but the race aspect of is difficult to reconcile. A section of the plot involving illegal immigration and the threat of deportation further complicates this. The film isn’t racist, but in going out of its way to be inclusive it comes off more patronizing than anything.
Which is all perhaps a sign of the worst thing about The Right Kind of Wrong: it’s Canadian. Okay, now maybe the simple fact that it’s a Canadian film doesn’t make it bad, but it definitely points to where many of the problems come from. It’s one thing for a crass product like this to come out of Hollywood, but it’s wholly another for it to be produced independently in the Great White North. Somebody along the way thought this must be the kind of film that could make money.
There’s no clearer example of this than the fact that the film clearly takes place in Banff, but not once is Banff or Alberta or Canada mentioned. The film stays anonymous. Shot with all the grace of a Kokanee commercial and made to appeal to the broadest audience, and hopefully an American one, too. Gotta get some of those greenbacks in the box office! And God forbid the name “Canada” scares off those sensitive Americans.
At this point it’s quite clear that The Right Kind of Wrong is an awful film. Please don’t let its inclusion in the recent Toronto International Film Festival fool you. This is not the kind of film that deserves entry into a festival, nor is it deserving of your support in theatres. To go see this film is to encourage the continued decline of a once great genre, as well as the further dilution of mainstream Canadian cinema into a pale imitation of the American crap we already despise.