Director: Mark Steven Johnson
Cast: Heather Graham, Rachael Leigh Cook, Damon Wayans Jr.
Streaming Platform: Netflix
986 failed dates later, Nick Evans (Damon Wayans Jr.), the good boy extraordinaire, classy, calm, charming, gold-hearted, and self-aware, decides to sue the dating site ‘Love, Guaranteed’, the titular character and claim here. The site guarantees love within 1000 dates. He’s inching towards his millennium record- breakfast, lunch, and dinner dates planned in a swipe and swat, but there’s no hope. These dating sites, he claims, are a sham and he wants to bring them to their knees (not that kind, not the other kind either).
His lawyer, having never been even on the peripheral suction pump that are dating sites, is Susan Whitaker (Rachael Leigh Cook), a good girl extraordinaire, classy, calm, charming (ish), gold-hearted, and self-aware. This is to say that they are going to fall in love with versions of themselves. The cross-racial relationship, Nick is black, Susan is white, might as well not exist- the parents are not in the scene, and so one’s upbringing, and the cultural range is edited out, or perhaps, irrelevant here. It also makes sense that issues with online dating- ghosting, and cat-fishing, are merely brushed under the rug for comic effect. (This is not to say that I wish this film dealt with this, but that a film on dating sites can deal with these issues)
It’s a romantic comedy, so you know the ropes. There’s tension, then there’s love, then there’s some issue keeping them apart, and then as the issue unmists, the lips unite. Love Guaranteed follows the premise to the T. It’s not too shabby, or contrived. You root for them to just fast-forward the mess and come to the final declarations, but it’s not because the mess is incoherent or boring. It might be a little bloated in between. (The run time is 1 hour 30 minutes, ideal for a rom-com in the 2000s, but this is 2020, with declining attention spans, genre film durations too must do some introspection.) But it never crosses the border from bloated to boredom. There is a court-case but if you are thinking of a delicious court-case drama to layer the fruit wine bubbles that this story is, you’re sorely mistaken. It plays out like a fairy tale, and you never feel the stress or adrenaline that comes from such moments. I wish the makers had made this more tense, and made Susan’s speeches seem less like open mic slam poetry. But you know… romance.
This is a universe where everyone is kind and generous, like Susan’s brother-in-law whose family owns the house she is staying in, and thus asks for minimal rent, and her sister who is kind, caring, and carrying, with child. Even the evil, the dating site lawyer and owner, are so caricatured that more than distaste, you just laugh them off. The details too, like her bright orange car that sputters to life and dies at will, with a handle that comes off when pulled, or the Tiffany song that plays like, literally, a stuck tape, are glaringly obvious, nothing here is left to subtext or deeper observation. Even the associates in Susan’s own law firm, never bat an eyelid to do overtime, and weekends- they just want their boss to find love!
I find it quite ironic that most of these romantic comedies praising paeans to eternal love, are exactly like the hookup culture they are eulogizing- watch the gloss, then off you toss, hump and dump. There’s no enduring quality to it, because they are, like one night stands, not meant to endure. And that’s fine. There’s no point bringing out my guns to this pillow-fight, and saying otherwise. For a fleeting, kind, compassionate genre, this was a fleeting, kind, and compassionate film.