The Rewrite thoughts

By Jon Sandys

Tue 14th Oct 2014

This isn't a review as such, not least as there are at least 1.6 billion better places to read film reviews (I've counted), and also it'll be much less organised than that. I'm also a terrible film reviewer, because I tend to overlook the flaws in most movies (ironic, huh?). It's more that I had a few disjointed thoughts that I wanted to express somewhere, and 140 characters on Twitter just wasn't going to cut it.

I'm a sucker for romcoms - I have a fairly low bar for them, and all I really want/expect is to chuckle a bit, see likeable characters have a generally good time, then go home. Obviously a few well known classics rise above that (When Harry Met Sally, Four Weddings, etc.), and some don't even manage to clear the tiniest hurdle (The Wedding Planner and The Accidental Husband come to mind as being particularly dreadful), but most slot into a middle of the road bracket with a conventional arc, which I have no problem with - if I want high art there are other places to go.

For the first third or so I wasn't quite settling into The Rewrite, and it took me a while to realise why. Despite the implications from the trailer, this isn't really a "romantic comedy". I mean there are laughs, and there's a low-key romance, but it's far more about the development of the main character, going from once-famous writer, to begrudging teacher, to willing educator. Now don't get me wrong, this isn't Dead Poet's Society or Dangerous Minds, but it makes it a far more interesting movie than you might expect.

Despite having all the trappings of a traditional romcom, it follows its own path, rather than the expected "meet cute, hit it off, obstacle/misunderstanding, acrimonious break up, reconciliation, happiness" arc. I'm not saying it has a radical plot twist or pans out in a way you can't see coming, but it made a pleasant change to watch a film that just has a story to tell and swerves around a few expectations, rather than one which ticks off the normal boxes.

There's clearly a biographical influence from the writer/director (Marc Lawrence, who also did Two Weeks Notice, Music and Lyrics, and Did You Hear About the Morgans?). Two Weeks Notice, despite its missing apostrophe, is one of my favourite modern romcoms. While it follows the normal structure, the disagreement between the characters (essentially an unavoidably broken promise) sticks in my mind as one of the few examples in the genre where it actually makes sense for the characters to have a falling out about it. Too often it's a misunderstanding that could be cleared up in one sentence, or a stupid lie, serving the plot but making no sense.

I digress. The main character in The Rewrite had one big hit then a string of failures, and is struggling enough financially to take a teaching job. Marc Lawrence studied at the university at the centre of the story here, and he's not made a film since 2009's critically and commercially disappointing DYHATM? (I'm not writing all that out again). While the story is relatively simple, there are a variety of nice character touches throughout. Almost all the people we meet are given a few moments to demonstrate a bit more depth than we might first expect, without resorting to swinging too far the other way ("she's a goth...but just wants to be loved!" "he's a jock...but secretly loves poetry!"). The Star Wars kid is a possible exception, but even that ends up illustrating a larger point.

The cliche factor is probably the main thing which sticks with me. Obviously it shares a lot of factors with other similar films - if you can't stand Hugh Grant then move along. But there are various points where a lot of movies would have gone a conventional path, and this goes a different way. Not radically so, and not all the time, but enough to make me feel like Marc Lawrence was, if not deliberately subverting a few expectations, at least just sticking to his own ideas.

One low-key example I may be reading too much into, but it struck me. Hugh Grant and Marisa Tomei are having a discussion/argument at the back of the restaurant where she works. They're frequently interrupted by servers coming between them with trays of crockery, and I figured it was just a matter of time until a typical slapstick moment played out during an over the top hand movement. But no - it's a reasonable discussion between normal people, and they're both paying enough attention not to knock stuff over. You know, like reality. I'd love to know if there were any studio executives wanting a big crash/laugh for the trailer, and got talked out of it (how many times have you actually laughed at someone falling over on screen anyway?).

I worry this is coming across as implying that seeing this film was a life-changing experience, not least due to how much drivel I've churned out about it. I don't mean to oversell it - just because it defied my own expectations a bit doesn't mean that it's ground-breaking or will blow people away. But it just came across as having a bit more to it than meets the eye, much like many of the characters in it. Not cavernous depths full of hidden meaning, but enough to make you realise there was just a bit more than you might have first thought. Maybe not as rom or com as some others, but consistently likeable, well executed, and felt like it's been actually written by someone who knew what he wanted to write, not churned out by a romantic comedy machine.

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