The romantic comedy: it’s been with us almost as long as movies have, in a thousand flavors and variations, from the sweet and humane farce of Chaplin’s CITY LIGHTS to the knowing worldliness of AS GOOD AS IT GETS. Person A meets Person B is one of the most classic (some might say “cliche”) storytelling fomulas there is, but it still works – and the good romantic comedies over the years serve as evidence in my personal belief that in storytelling, originality isn’t as important as execution. But that means execution really, really matters in stories as formulaic as romantic comedies – because if you can’t be original, you really had better be good. And unfortunately, on these grounds, SOMETHING BORROWED doesn’t quite make it to the altar.
It begins with a setup I actually found rather promising. Rachel White (Ginnifer Goodwin), a talented but socially inept wallflower of a law student, nurses a crush on her fellow student Dex (Colin Egglesfield), but, unable to articulate her feelings, lets her go-getting alpha-chick friend Darcy Rhone (Kate Hudson) pursue him instead, in a scene that had me wincing in genuine sympathy. Years pass; Rachel is a successful but lonely attorney, and Darcy and Dex are engaged. At Rachel’s thirtieth birthday party, things escalate until she finds herself in bed with Dex, and the two begin a torrid affair with the impending wedding date looming over both of them.
As romantic comedy setups go, I actually really liked this on paper. A shy person settling for less is organic and plausible in a way that, say, incredibly beautiful hotel maids falling in love with incredibly handsome businessmen is not. The complication that ensues flows from who these characters are as people rather than from artificial rom-com contrivances like mistaken identities or being on the opposite side of a court case. On paper, it’s great (which possibly has something to do with the movie’s origin as a book by light comedy author Emily Giffin). In practice, though, as a movie, it doesn’t end up working out.
Part of the problem has to do with casting; not in the sense that anyone is bad, but that Ginnifer Goodwin is, for my money, more physically attractive than Kate Hudson in this movie – Hudson, despite barely cracking 30, looks weirdly stretched out and careworn, and it makes Darcy, who’s supposed to come off like a real take-charge, fun-loving firecracker, seem more like an exhausted, margarita-chugging forty-year-old, like one of the girls from “Absolutely Fabulous.” It stretches credulity that Darcy could outshine Rachel as much as the movie wants us to believe. This isn’t helped by the way the script, in trying to keep Dax and Rachel – who are after all engaged in infidelity – sympathetic to the audience, stacks the deck against Darcy, making her increasingly unlikeable, which in turn makes us wonder why our heroine was ever friends with her.
The other issue is that, having set up the actually interesting central dilemma early on (two characters having an affair that they really don’t want to reveal to a third), the movie then isn’t quite sure where to take that story for the next hour and during a trip to Dax’s palatial family home in the Hamptons, falls back into narrative cul-de-sacs that lead nowhere – there’s a subplot with Dax’s depressed mother that is set up and then essentially abandoned, and another subplot involving Rachel’s best male friend Ethan (John Krasinski, playing his usual decent-Everyman role) who is of course pining for Rachel himself, and rather than building tension it just felt like the movie was sitting there with a stopwatch, patiently marking down the minutes until the third-act climax could begin.
That’s not to say that SOMETHING BORROWED is a complete waste of time. Kate Hudson, who had such amazing promise in ALMOST FAMOUS and then fizzled out in a decade of utterly forgettable comedies like this one, nevertheless comes alive in the role of Darcy despite the handicaps the script saddles her with. Ginnifer Goodwin is fantastic in the lead, radiant and charming, and makes Rachel feel more three-dimensional and real than your average Sandra Bullock character; and as Dex, Colin Egglesfield isn’t really required to do much more than embody a movie fantasy of a rich, impossibly handsome lawyer, but he plays the role like he wasn’t told that, and has genuine chemistry with Goodwin. There’s a good cast here, and the skeleton of a good story, and watching SOMETHING BORROWED it feels like you can sometimes almost glimpse the classic romantic comedy that could have been.