It's time, difficult though it might be, to put a moratorium on all these plinka-plinka ukuleles you hear under cutesy love stories. We get it: Hearts are exactly like tiny, quivering beach instruments strummed by Don Ho. The Romantics, meanwhile, directed (unusually) by its original novelist, Galt Niederhoffer, has a much tougher tale to tell---if only Jon Sadoff's twee score would let it. Confident Lila (Paquin) is about to marry her fianc, brainy Tom (Duhamel), so their college clique gathers at a North Fork estate to celebrate the nuptials. In attendance, too, is Laura (Holmes, stepping up her game), not so long ago Tom's lover and now in an awkward, competitive detente with her best friend, the bride. Graying weather looms ominously, and the night will prove eventful.
We're not quite in the presence of something like Jonathan Demme's masterly psychodrama Rachel Getting Married, but Niederhoffer's naturalism---both on page and behind the camera---makes for an unusually strong showcase for the women. (Females are the film's target audience; my crowd gasped loudest not at an insult or stolen kiss, but at an accidentally torn wedding dress. Yikes!) Duhamel, the hunk of the Transformers movies, is a generous listener to two standout turns, Paquin's chirpy alpha-girl and Holmes's thrown-off sufferer. Even Malin Akerman, the void of Watchmen, flourishes as a cokey bridesmaid; The Romantics gets much of the female chitchat right, from catty asides to sisterly chase-fights in bare feet. Still, a movie about a group of longtime friends should have more history to it. It ends where you want it to begin.---Joshua Rothkopf
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