(2009) Drama (IFC) Scott Caan, Wendy Glenn, Troy Garity, Erika Christensen, Alexie Gilmore, James Caan, Dylan McDermott, Whitney Able, John Boyd, Balthazar Getty, Kelly Lynch, Dorian Brown, Bre Blair. Directed by Patrick Hoelck
Love is as ephemeral as perfume; there in your senses one moment, disappearing on the barest puff of wind the next. We all need to bathe in it; drown in it; feel it all around us but it is the nature of love that it can be cruel as well.
Johnny Ryan (Scott Caan) is a successful author of what amounts to romance novels. Unfortunately, he may not be the best qualified man to write them. His life has been a series of one night stands and failed relationships. Johnny doesn’t believe much in love; he doesn’t want to give it that much power over him. He is sexy and handsome enough to capture the attention of women, particularly those who read his books and find them to be romantic but he himself doesn’t think romance is real.
Then he meets Mercy Bennett (Glenn) at a party celebrating his latest book and the two hit it off. It isn’t until afterwards that he discovers that she is a book reviewer and she’s written a particularly scathing review of his latest review. Far from being upset, he’s fascinated and curious and arranges to meet her to discuss the book and why she hated it so. It turns out she thinks he lacks depth, which I can certainly agree with.
The two wind up developing a relationship that grows and matures until they are very much in love. Suddenly Mr. Doesn’t Believe in Love is a believer. Still, life has a way of throwing us curveballs, some quite wicked and one is thrown at Johnny, one that will cause him to doubt even the most basic preconceptions he’s ever had and turn to the most unlikely place for answers – his father Gerry (James Caan), who initially forged Johnny’s belief that romance is a myth.
The movie is smartly written by Scott Caan, extremely literate in its conventions. I liked the conceit of naming the two parts of the movie “Before” and “After,” which lead you to a central event which shapes the movie (one which shouldn’t be disclosed here in order to preserve the element of surprise it brings). Caan also stretches his wings a little bit as an actor; the roles he is usually assigned are as second bananas, so it’s nice to see him take a lead role for a change. His scenes with his father in the second half of the movie are the best in the movie. Glenn also does a good job in the thankless role that could easily have been relegated to plot contrivance; instead, she fleshes it out and gives the part a little bit of bite that helps flavor the film a bit.
However, most of the other roles – including the usually reliable McDermott as Johnny’s agent – are undefined and somewhat bland. Even if Caan does a fine job acting, he is let down by his writer who crafts a character whose parts don’t end up adding up to the sum the movie wishes you to arrive at. That leaves you with a vaguely unsettled feeling, as if you’re being asked “what’s wrong with this picture” and you can’t quite put your finger on it.
Mercy explores the nature of love as redemption to a very large extent (although that’s not the only thing the movie is about, that seems to be its primary mission so to speak) and that’s a tall order for any film. The movie asks us to take a lot on faith – why a confirmed bachelor would suddenly change his outlook almost 180 degrees for someone who thinks him (and correctly so) shallow is a bit of a stretch for me. Still, the movies main sin of reaching for lofty heights is a forgivable one, and while this isn’t enough for me to rave over, there’s enough going on here to make the movie at least an interesting viewing.
WHY RENT THIS: Scott Caan does an exceptional job and his scenes with his father are well done. The filmmakers capture the L.A. literary scene nicely.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The story is a bit pedestrian and the characters don’t really grab the attention as well as they might.
FAMILY VALUES: The language is salty at times.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the second time that James and Scott Caan have appeared in a movie together (the first was A Boy Called Hate in 1995) and in both they have played father and son, which they are in real life.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $6,780 on an unreported production budget; the movie was a flop in its theatrical release.
FINAL RATING: 5/10
TOMORROW: The Dukes