Comedy Film Review

Film Review: Playing It Cool

February 27, 2015Ben Mk


500 Days of Captain America...

What's more challenging, writing a romantic comedy or being the protagonist in one? In Playing It Cool, Chris Evans' character finds himself doing both, as a writer struggling with completing his rom-com screenplay who's also hitting a brick wall when it comes to wooing the woman of his dreams. It's a deliciously meta premise with ample potential, but can it and the film's winning cast — which includes the likes of Michelle Monaghan, Aubrey Plaza and Anthony Mackie — save what otherwise amounts to a fairly uninventive rom-com?

   

Evans plays an L.A.-based screenwriter suffering from a major case of writer's block. For some reason we never learn his name, but we know this much: His agent (Mackie) has been pestering him to finish his script for a rom-com, but he just can't get it together, not even with a job penning an action movie script hanging in the balance. You see, it all stems from his deep-seated abandonment issues, having been raised by his grandfather (Philip Baker Hall) after his mother left him to be with her lover. Ever since then, he's been unable to reciprocate those three little words — "I love you" — in all his relationships. Which is why he's finding it so difficult to put pen to paper, as it were.

Then along comes Monaghan's character, whom he meets by chance at a charity event. Her name is never revealed either, but she happens to be the only woman capable of making our forlorn hero reconsider his stance on romance. The problem is that she already has a "stuffy" boyfriend (Ioan Gruffudd), leaving our writer high and dry. With only two options — forget about her or find her again and persuade her to give him a chance — he chooses to hit the L.A. charity scene with his best buddy (Topher Grace), in the hopes of running into her. When he finally succeeds, however, he talks himself into the friend zone and is doomed to spend the rest of the movie trying to parlay their relationship into something more.

None of this should be terribly unfamiliar if you've seen the Danielle Radcliffe/Zoe Kazan romantic vehicle The F Word, which covered more or less the same ground, only with a tad more emotional resonance. The difference is that The F Word was more concerned with the moral ambiguities of its lead characters' relationship and told its story from both the male and the female perspective. Playing It Cool, on the other hand, is much more one-sided, as director Justin Reardon and screenwriters Chris Shafer and Paul Vicknair make the story all about how our male protagonist finds his heart and learns how to follow it.

The movie does have a leg up on The F Word in one major department, though. And that's its cast, who all have a ridiculous amount of chemistry with one another. Whether it's Evans' loveable-asshole routine, Monaghan as the down-to-earth girl next door, or Mackie's cocky quipping, you can count on one thing: Playing It Cool is loads of fun to watch. Factor in Patrick Warburton as a smug charity-goer, then top it off with Grace, Plaza, Martin Starr and Luke Wilson as our writer's inner circle — and primary source for hilariously inappropriate advice — and it's all just icing on the cake.

Reardon also throws in a few other entertaining touches along the way that help to give the overall effort some personality. For example, sporadic fantasy sequences in which our writer imagines himself as the characters in other people's tales of romance, scenes in which we see his heart — manifested as a chain-smoking version of himself in a black suit — mocking him from afar, or the way the movie puts its own little twists on tried-and-true rom-com clich├ęs. But Playing It Cool never fully leverages these unique moments, so for the most part, they end up falling by the wayside as the story plays out to its predictable conclusion.

The Bottom Line Despite dressing itself up with some decidedly modern sensibilities, Playing It Cool ends up feeling very much like an old-fashioned romantic comedy. But you can't really fault it for wearing its heart on it sleeve. After all, the cast is fantastic and they keep the movie reliably entertaining, so long as you don't read too much into the moral ickiness of the whole situation. The average moviegoer's mileage may vary, but for rom-com addicts looking for a fun evening at the multiplex, this fits the bill.  Ben Mk





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