It was only a matter of time before someone tried to fully exploit the social media age for the evils of the generic romantic comedy and “A Case of You,” a new Justin Long-led rom-com, does just that; abusing the Facebook platform to create the first FB stalker comedy. Somehow, everything creepy and vile in this Kat Coiro-directed comedy (“L!fe Happens“) is meant to seem comically cute and not the restraining-order freaky that it clearly is. Like all of these meretricious and morally reprehensible culture-farts, it’s presented as harmless and adorable at heart, but as the central quintessentially dorky character becomes more and more fawning and subservient, the actors themselves seem to border on queasiness.
Co-produced, co-written and starring Justin Long and his pals, “A Case of You” is premised as a classic, nice-guys-finish-last romantic comedy where the nice guy actually manages to succeed, in spite of his spectacular ineptness. Long stars as Sam, a 20-something, Brooklyn-based manboy hack writer who pens novelizations of movies. He loathes the gig and aspires to write more personal literature, but novelizations are what pay the bills and his literary agent (Vince Vaughn) is more than happy to keep the steady work flowing.
As plot points go, Sam becoming instantly crushed-out and smitten with Birdie, the Brooklynite barista of his local coffee shop (Evan Rachel Wood), is perhaps one of the laziest “hey, let’s get this narrative moving” devices ever conceived. But the film shrugs and goes there anyway. Shy and insecure Justin and cardboard cut-out Birdie meet when the awkward manchild finally musters up the courage to start up an artlessly unsophisticated conversation with her (a conversation that other customers openly sigh at and mock). Self-deprecation is the modus operandi for “A Case of You,” but the writers are clearly not aware that abusing this tenor the way they do makes characters unbearably pathetic to the point that you cannot in good conscience root for them.
This already formulaic affair then quickly goes from rather brainless and predictable to utterly insipid when Birdie gets fired, and to track her down, the would-be author decides to Facebook stalk her on the advice from his roommate (Keir O’Donnell, the weird black sheep sibling in “Wedding Crashers”) who ‘hilariously’ spends all day masturbating to pictures of Martha Stewart and present-day Carrie Fisher (no, really). Instead of contacting Birdie, Justin begins to study her FB page trying to master all her hobbies (cooking, rockwall climbing, ballroom dancing, judo, guitar playing, improv) and creative interests, favorite books, movies, musicians, poets (Joan Baez, Walt Whitman, etc.) in hopes of appearing to be the perfect mate when he finally does try and ask her out. Not only is this creepy and pathetic (though diverting enough for some in our crowd), but Sam inadvertently sublimates his own personality into even more of a bland non-entity as he seeks to pose as an expert in all her favorite pastimes. Of course, Birdie eventually falls for Sam, but the weight of masquerading as someone else soon becomes emotionally and psychically exhausting; especially when she finally clues into the fact that he’s a fraud and she’s fallen in love with an alter-ego that doesn’t actually exist.
“A Case of You” employs every unendurable cliché in the book—montage sequences of Sam becoming familiar with Birdie’s interests, goofy and bad pop songs (Spin Doctors), a superficially bouncy score, and the requisite cringeworthy obstacles (such as when, posing as a guitarist, Sam is horribly embarrassed when Birdie’s ex-boyfriend played by Brendan Fraser invites him to jam onstage at a gig). Early on, the film is essentially a hairbrained series of “wacky” incidents and mishaps as Sam tries to become what he believes is Birdie’s ideal man. Later on, dumb gags include stoner clichés and tired jokes that are telegraphed from a mile away. Unfunny, broad and all too familiar, “A Case of You” is a paint-by-numbers romantic comedy of the very worst kind, one that tried to act as a cautionary how-not-date tale but actually ends up as one of the best how-not-to–write rom-coms of the century so far.
Penned by Justin Long, Christian Long and aforementioned co-star Keir O’Donnell, “A Case of You” never seems to know when to give its character some reprieve and a little dignity. Sam’s a tool that they abuse for comedic purposes, but because they rarely respect him as writers, neither do we as an audience. The opening sequence has the main character trying to write his first novel with snippets of prose being written and deleted and the author finally commenting that he is “drowning in a sea of cliches” (no shit). Later on, the aggressive emasculation of this character is so brutal that the writers, clearly aware that you probably have zero respect for this character, create a scene where Vince Vaughn’s agent character and his partner (Peter Billingsley) tear apart the protagonist of the the novel, which that is a not-even-thinly veiled retelling of the movie’s central romance. They rip the character apart for being lost, desperate, pathetic and without balls or persona because that’s exactly what Sam is: a eunuch-like Ken doll who trades his meagre dignity to get this girl. By then we practically want him to fail.
“A Case of You” is unbearable, but give the producers some credit for the strong supporting cast who generates most of the few laughs and deserve to be spared from the floods of execrations that will surely follow this movie. Every moment Sam Rockwell is on screen is laugh-out-loud funny (about three brief scenes as a doofus guitar teacher). Vince Vaughn (playing Vince Vaughn of course) is mostly, kind-of funny and there’s a gag with an old man in a ballroom that pays off with one big laugh. This means the writers, joke-wise, are not entirely bankrupt, should they ever wish to try a bit harder with characterization, plot and so forth. Peter Dinklage plays a flamboyantly gay coffee barista and is also pretty funny if you can look past how hatefully cartoonish his character is. Busy Phillips also makes an appearance.
But aside from these few sparkles, this insufferable film is insulting, loathsome and banal. One has to wonder what many of the intelligent and above-this-crap actors involved (especially the eminently capable Evan Rachel Wood, playing a sub-MPD here) thought they were making when they got involved in this.
There’s some interesting ideas floating around about identity, manhood, and what it means to connect with someone in an over-connected world, but “A Case of You” (named for a Joni Mitchell song that’s not actually in the film) never actively explores them. Instead, it delves into generic rom-com and ropey cliché to little comic effect. [D+]
This is a reprint of our review from the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival.