Another disappointing romcom that lacks the endearing charm of films from the early 2000s .
The release of Love Again (2023), directed by James C. Strouse, has altogether cemented my lack of faith in the revival of the earnest, hilarious and touching romantic comedy. Gone are the days of credible, original screenplays that elicit sincere tears and giggles, invite the sentimental rewatch and tug at a deliciously mixed audience of the young and the old, the heartbroken and the lovesick. Instead, filmmakers are reliant on the cameos of bygone (or shall we say, vintage) celebrities like Céline Dion to penetrate an oversaturated output of cinema and pique the intrigue of streaming-service-surfing couch potatoes with short attention spans.
As a remake of German-language film, SMS für Dich (2016), Love Again can neither boast originality, nor emotional appeal. This film depicts the rather contrived entanglement of a bereaved children’s book illustrator Mira Ray (Priyanka Chopra Jonas) and the new owner of her deceased fiancé’s mobile number, Rob Burns (Sam Heughan). Rob receives the text messages Mira sends to what she believes is an inactive number and coincidentally falls in love with her, then utilising the clues in the texts to seek her out. He finds her serendipitously in a grim-looking bar in New York City before manufacturing a second accidental encounter to win her affections.
Featuring the sanitised performance of Priyanka Chopra Jonas, this romantic comedy is not very romantic, nor very comedic, nor very sensitive to grief. One would think Mira would be a little more unstable after witnessing the brutal accident that leads to the death of her fiancé only two years earlier. However, her chief dilemma seems to be deciding what to do with her caterpillar illustration for her next book, besides pouring her grief into it. The overzealous score does little to help, bordering on being hubristic for its fear of pausing to let silence arrest what should be emotionally heightened moments. It sets a pace which suits those aforementioned couch-potatoes but does not linger enough to invite emotional investment from a more attentive audience.
Another issue I have with this film is the weak character of love interest, Rob. With seemingly no significant backstory and no clear motives, his character leaves me begging the question: why so driven to identify the stranger sending grief-stricken texts to his work phone? What I see is a thirty-something-year-old single man with love-bombing tendencies. There is nothing moving about his obsession with text messages not meant for him or about how easy it is to find Mira in New York city, of all places, without even sending a reply. I am not sure if that is a credible enough premise for falling in love, especially when mobile phones are now the vessels of long and unendurable conversations. It failed to hook me despite its attempt at being contemporary. Rob’s non-nuanced character provides the bedrock for the predictable narrative arc of two people whose connection is strung by a script of subpar jokes about burgers, cereal and incompetent cooking. Little to root for, little at stake.
Besides the soulless plot, Céline Dion’s feature film debut as herself in Love Again is at best robotic, at worst a desperate attempt to maintain relevance, evident from her release of five new songs with the film. Acting as a sort of fairy godmother, she choreographs the progression of the relationship between Mira and Rob when it meets its inevitable speedbumps. I am at a loss to think why the goddess of love Céline Dion would care about these two uninspired individuals. Her lack of credibility as a character, and, quite frankly, her blank facial expressions, did not move me to root for the pair of lovers. It only made me wonder why she was there. I hate to pigeonhole, but unfortunately, Dion should probably stay in her lane.
Where the film does not win the sentiment of its audience, it also fails to convince with comedy. While American humour is certainly not known for its subtlety or its cleverness, I truly did not find many reasons to laugh while watching this film. Mira’s bubbly younger sister (Sofia Barclay) and Rob’s flamboyant colleague (Russell Tovey) do offer some well-placed yet stereotypical comic relief, but much of the humour in this film is dull. While it tries to be relatable, it is artificially so. What’s more, Mira’s naïve dabbles on the dating app Bumble, an injection that almost convinced me it was a sponsored advertisement, is so manufactured that it is completely unconvincing and out of touch with the reality of online dating. Grossing just over USD $11 million after a month in cinemas, Love Again reveals itself to be nothing but forgetful.
Perhaps the charm I long for can only be found in the romcoms that precede the dating app era and the only thing filmmakers can do to match it is grasp for its pallbearers like Céline Dion or regurgitate tried and true tropes (i.e., awkward girl falls for popular boy, see The Kissing Booth, or serendipitous meet-cute in holiday season, see About Fate). I take my hat off to Strouse for at least knowing how to churn out a film that will earn a few million at the box office and sit on streaming platforms for a few years before it disappears off the radar. What hope is there for a genre spoiled by the very thing we love about it–nostalgia? In short, I recommend rewatching Four Weddings and a Funeral instead.