A lot of interesting, funny performers aren’t very interesting or funny in director Kat Corio’s “A Case of You.” Co-penned by thesps Keir O’Donnell and Justin Long with the latter’s sibling Christian Long, this surprisingly bland indie version of the generic mainstream romantic comedy has talent to burn, none of it put to good use. It’s not awful, but the paucity of fresh ideas or humor makes this overly safe first writing effort for all three scribes innocuous to the point of instant forgettability. Limited IFC theatrical release on Nov. 8 (simultaneous with VOD launch) is unlikely to make much of a dent, but cast names should drive decent home-sales biz.
Sam (Justin Long) is a successful writer — albeit not a very fulfilled one, since so far he’s only published work-for-hire novelizations of “Twilight”-esque film franchise “Teen Vampire” — smitten with the girl behind the counter of his favorite Brooklyn cafe. Convinced that Birdie (Evan Rachel Wood) will be attracted to him only if he already has the “man of her dreams” characteristics, he goes overboard researching her “likes” on Facebook, claiming to have a number of skills and interests she finds “cool.” Thus he frantically enrolls in guitar, cooking and judo lessons, traipses along with her to ballroom dancing and rock-wall climbing, etc. That he enjoys (let alone is good at) none of these things is trumped by the fear that the mildly adventurous Birdie would dump him if she knew how boring he really was.
There’s some potentially intriguing psychology here, but the script doesn’t develop Sam enough to make his insecurities compelling or distinctive. A utility player who’s been capable of considerable charm and occasional hilarity over the last decade-plus, Long has curiously had a hand in writing one of his duller roles. There’s a good scene when Sam encounters a well-wishing ex (Sienna Miller), oblivious to the fact that he’s again demonstrating the self-absorption that drove her away. But that moment of insight isn’t followed up on at all until our hero has a late meltdown in which his fears of rejection are acted out in self-sabotaging hostility toward Birdie — an awkward, unpleasant sequence that seems to come out of nowhere. Then we’re abruptly back to romantic-comedy cliche, complete with last-minute dash across town to make an apologetic confession of love before a convenient, misty-eyed audience (amid a ballroom dance competition).
The setpieces stubbornly refuse to amuse, including the New Age-y retreat the protags go on with a stoner roommate (O’Donnell) and his g.f. (Busy Philipps), where Sam freaks out on heavy-duty weed. Likewise, there ought to be good fun in featured roles for Sam Rockwell (an attitudinous guitar teacher), Peter Dinklage (a sniffy, rather stereotypically “gay-acting” barista), Vince Vaughn (Sam’s literary agent) and Brendan Fraser (Birdie’s wild-man musician ex). But these normally enlivening presences achieve little here, and not for lack of trying. The material is like a wet rock against which myriad matches are struck, yet nary a spark results. Coming off best is Wood, who makes her love interest a relatable, likably everyday kind of free spirit.
Tech package is polished but, like everything else here, could have used some distinguishing personality, particularly among the design contributions.