Synopsis: A novelist struggling with writer’s block, finds inspiration when she meets a down-on-his-luck odd ball who constantly changes personas and alter egos in order to cope with his past and avoid reality.
Stars: Cleopatra Coleman, Nick Thune, Iliza Shlesinger, Trezzo Mahoro, Leanne Lapp, Lauren McGibbon, Tarun Keram, Charlotte Kavanagh, Sunny Chen, Amy Goodmurphy
Director: Ken Mok
Running Length: 91 minutes
TMMM Score: (6/10)
Review: Let’s take a brief journey back in time to the mid-2000s when not everyone had Tivo or a DVR and it wasn’t unheard of for people to actually watch live TV. This was back when the term “appointment television” actually meant something and overnight ratings for popular programs were eagerly anticipated to see what had broken big the previous evening. I was a faithful follower of several shows, but it was the guilty pleasures that started to do a number on my viewing habits, keeping me up until the wee hours of the morning so I wouldn’t have any big spoilers ruined for me the next day at work. One of these shows was, and I admit this with no fear in my heart, America’s Next Top Model and it’s a reality show I followed through nearly all of it’s, gulp, 24 smize-ing seasons.
It was during these many, many, many seasons and episodes that I became very familiar with the name Ken Mok, the co-creator and executive producer that was involved throughout its highly profitable life. Also responsible for the cult-favorite Making the Band as well as several other reality competition shows that never caught on the way his two big hits did, Mok is now making the transition to feature films with the rom-com The Right One. Serving as the writer as well as the director, the 60-year-old may not be an obvious choice to direct a movie that purportedly has its best foot forward with the current dating scene. Yet, surprisingly, there is something about the film that winds up working in a peculiar way, showing that Mok can bring some decent charm to a tired formula, elevating it along with an appealing set of leads to an easily digestible level. It’s not great food but it’s a good snack served with a wink and a smile.
After scoring an early success with her first novel, Sara (Cleopatra Coleman, In the Shadow of the Moon) is struggling with a bad case of writer’s block trying to recapture a similar spark for her sophomore outing. Perhaps there’s a bit of guilt from the ease at which she earned that first taste of fame with material she looks down on. After all, she always envisioned she would write more serious prose but then wound up more of a slightly more mature YA scribe pandering to less than discerning tastes. Her friend/agent Kelly (Iliza Shlesinger, The Opening Act) doesn’t care how she resolves her internal debate, she just wants a finished product and a reluctant Sara to participate in the lucrative tie-ins that are coming from her achievements. Mostly, Kelly just thinks Sara needs a boyfriend to find inspiration.
A visit to a trendy art show brings about the appearance of Godfrey (Nick Thune, Venom) a man that switches up his personality more often than he changes his socks. During the art show alone, Sara catches him as at least two different people and committing fully to the charade. Later spotting him busking in the streets as a singing cowboy, she presses him to know more and her persistence leads to a new friend and an adventure in love that is more surprisingly complex than you’d originally believe. Godfrey is a man of many different personas (not split personalities) and he’s adopted this as a coping mechanism to hide from a past he wants to forget. Sara (and the viewer) are left to piece together clues from the man as well as his street-wise brother Shad (M.J. Kokolis) but will finding out the truth bring the two closer together as potential partners or cause Godfrey to retreat further into a world of mystery?
The plot for The Right One suggests it houses comedy that’s far wackier than it actually is and that turns out to be a good thing. I wound up appreciating that Mok dials back Godfrey’s different looks and characters (some of which are loud in the visual alone) and instead makes the movie more an exploration as to what is driving Godfrey toward feeling like these are his only way of expressing a deep grief. The drama of this comedy is what makes it memorable far more than the un-inspired antics of Godfrey’s more arch personas and especially Shlesinger’s hefty histrionics that feel like they are from another movie entirely. Her Devil Wears Kenneth Cole agent is too mean-spirited to also play a friendly ear for Sara and it’s no wonder she becomes less of a presence as the film stretches on.
That leaves it mostly up to Coleman and Thune to make Mok’s front-loaded script work and they do a pretty swell job with it. Coleman possesses an effervescence so fresh you almost hear the fizz if you turn the volume up loud enough. She’s a perfect bit of casting as a rom-com lead, an appealing underdog going through a dry patch personally and professionally that you can’t help but root for. There’s obvious chemistry between Thune’s character, too, and if it tends more toward the “friend zone” the more Sara finds out about his past, it still makes everything leading up to the finale have some slight bits of tension as to what will wind up happening. To his great credit, Thune has clearly delineated his different personas not by the obvious ways on the outside but through some clever (and subtle) adjustments in speech and emotion as well.
There are several drawbacks to the film, though. You have Shlesinger, practically sweating in each scene because she’s trying so hard to make something extra for her character when all she has to do was say the lines, just with a sharp tongue. She was so excellent a few weeks back in Pieces of a Woman that it was a bit of a letdown to see her do this old schtick again, to less than successful results. I also found Mok’s wrap-up to be extremely abrupt and without the kind of rounding off that felt necessary based on where the characters were at the point in the film. I dunno, something just felt off about the way the film was edited at that point.
With romantic comedies mostly becoming a dime a dozen, it’s important to shine a spotlight on those that maybe add up to $.15 or $.20. I’d give this one a look because of the two lead performances, Thune and especially Coleman have some real zeal on display, and they overcome the material when its gets a little syrupy. Even if The Right One makes some wrong turns here and there, it gets to its final destination with much of its original intent and integrity intact.