That chance encounter, or the moment of love at first sight — these have been the familiar building blocks of romantic comedies for decades, not to mention that New York City is a common backdrop against which these stories can play out. And yet, both audiences and filmmakers remain drawn to these tales, eager to see two people overcome personal, professional and/or social pressures to find a fairytale ending. However, in a genre as well traveled as this, finding a fresh angle isn't easy, but co-writer and director Martin Snyder gives it a whirl with "Missed Connections." While the online/social media twist doesn't absolve the film's many cliches and questionable moral lesson, the committed performances do at least highlight some talented folks worth looking out for down the road.
The central couple are straight out of the manual of the stock romantic comedy: Lucy (Mickey Sumner) is a frigid, no fun lawyer whose career is on the rise at a big firm. Stressed as she is, her hard work has seen her promoted to a job in London, but has left her with very little time for romance. Not that she's eager to jump back into the dating pool — coming off a breakup, even in a city as big as New York, once you factor out the freaks, egocentrics and other men of low caliber, she surmises that the prospects are grim. And then there's Josh (Jon Abrahams), a laid back IT guy at the same firm who, with his two friends and co-workers Jules (Malcolm Barrett) and Pradeep (Waris Ahluwlia), leads an enjoyable life of no ambition and slacker cool. Will these two opposites attract? Have you seen a movie before?
Of course, Josh realizes she's a bit out of his league, but soon finds an opportunity to get close to her and seizes upon it. One day Lucy bumps into a man in a revolving door at the office who seems to have everything she's looking for: he's handsome, British (the accent is "like female Viagara"), well read (he loves Tolstoy) and a world traveler. They share a moment, but of course, it quickly passes before they can exchange numbers. Urged by her friend Tess (Julia Jones), Lucy decides to try and find him on Craigslist's Missed Connections. Josh sees her post as part of his job monitoring staff internet use (which he also uses as an excuse to spy on her) and decides to anonymously respond as a prank. Set to surprise her at Washington Square Park and reveal the gag, when she starts crying, he concocts a story that he was waiting there too for his own Missed Connection, and as one lie builds on top of the other, he starts create more responses in order to "help" Lucy find her mystery man, all as a ruse to spend more time with her.
Yes, Josh is kind of an asshole. But because he's doing this all for love, and is drawing Lucy out of her work-driven shell, the audience is supposed to forgive this extended charade. It doesn't quite succeed, but Abrahams along with Barrett and Ahluwalia (whose characters Jules and Pradeep help in his scheme) are engaging enough that you're than happy to spend time with them anyway. The three are the film's comedic backbone, and while it can be broad at times (Ahuwalia's aspiring hip hop MC Pradeep, isn't quite convincing; Barrett's Jules is a bit undefined, but he gets some big laughs) their easy back and forth is involving. Meanwhile, both Sumner and Abrahams share a palpable chemistry that allows them to carry the movie over patches where the narrative stalls or becomes repetitive. And Abrahams in particular has the kind of presence and rakish charm that is not unlike Jake Johnson, and we can see him filling similar roles in the future.
And yet, even as good as the actors are, and though it's constructed on a decidedly contemporary approach to how men and women meet in the internet era, Snyder doesn't quite know where to take the movie as it wraps up. Unfortunately, "Missed Connections" takes a giant step back in the last act with a standard montage and racing-to-find-someone moment that you've seen in countless other, better movies. But perhaps worse, it contains a disappointingly conservative and old fashioned message. At one point during the film, Lucy says her previous relationship fell apart because they were both invested in their careers. Josh advises that she should've put her man ahead of her work. It's a thorough shame that this movie presents a woman as being unattractive or undesirable if she has career aspirations, and unfortunately that message carries through in a conclusion that reinforces a dated and somewhat sexist notion of what a modern relationship can be built on.
It's a bum note that derails an otherwise modest film, one that makes the most of an obviously low budget and the generally misshapen nature of first films. Snyder is still a filmmaker finding his voice and tone, and there are flashes throughout "Missed Connections" that indicate that he's one to keep an eye on. However, we hope down the road that his perception of gender roles advances to meet the contemporary approach to his narratives. [C+]