“I know boy/girl friendships can be quite complicated sometimes,” Alex (Sam Claflin) tells his bestie Rosie (Lily Collins) in “Love, Rosie.” And while the film positions itself as a romantic comedy that will explore the knotty emotions that can arise when acquaintanceship turns to attraction, it actually doesn’t. Instead, the movie, based on the book “Where Rainbows End” by Cecelia Ahearn (a wise choice on the behalf of the filmmakers to change the title), is the kind of tale about what happens when two people can’t just say what they’re feeling, and passive aggressively pursue other relationships, even though they really like each other. Yes, boy/girl relationships can be complicated, but sometimes, as these characters learn to the point of tedium, only as complicated as you make them out to be.
Told through a not particularly well-conceived flashback device with intermittent voiceover narration, the movie starts twelve years ago, during the halcyon days of teenagehood for Rosie and Alex. The pair have been inseparable since childhood, but with graduation looming, this would be the usual point at which their paths would diverge. But they strike a deal to both apply to schools in Boston — Alex is chasing a med school scholarship at Harvard, while Rosie eyes hotel management at Boston College — so they can take this new step in their lives together. But just as quickly as those plans are put in place, Rosie is knocked up after an embarrassing one night stand with the hot but inexperienced Greg (Christian Cooke) after the school dance, which probably wouldn’t have happened if she went with Alex like she really wanted to instead. But not wishing to dash Alex’s dream, she lets him go ahead to Boston, where he’s been accepted at Harvard, promising she won’t be too far behind. But she keeps both her pregnancy and the fact she too got an acceptance letter from Boston College a secret, and instead stays home and decides to have the child.
And so begins a story that will have a lot of this sort of thing. Over the next dozen years (thankfully the movie is only 99 minutes), Alex and Rosie will continue to have various bouts of bad timing, or moments when they hold back their true feelings, all while continually keeping a flame burning for each other. But the problem is that there is no conflict in the film, no obstacle for this couple to overcome except themselves. And it makes for a movie that is narratively inert, without much in the way of an arc thematically or through the characters. It’s a game of waiting for them to finally get on the same page, as various mishaps and miscommunications and life events keep them apart, while presumably the wheel of fate spins around enough times that it will at long last pull Rosie and Alex together. But even that doesn’t happen. The film’s resolution comes not from a final confluence of events, but from the kind of realization spurred by a long-awaited honest admission of feelings that you wish the characters had a decade earlier.
But credit Claflin and Collins for the kind of winsome, easy charm that allows “Love, Rosie” to go down easy. The pair share a genuine chemistry that gives the movie momentum even when the script lags behind. And in support, a special notice must go to Jaime Winstone as Ruby, Rosie’s best friend and voice of reason. She’s brassy, but not in the way of the broadly shaped caricature those kind of roles usually have. She’s got a tart tongue, but a good heart, and even though she enters the film a third of a way through, there’s never a question about why Ruby and Rosie became fast friends, and the character arrives at the right time to liven things up.
However, even the best efforts of the cast are sometimes stymied by director Christian Ditter. Perhaps most mind boggling is the helmer’s access to a pricey soundtrack featuring Elton John, Lily Allen, Peggy Lee, Beyoncé and more, but making some truly head-scratching decisions with the songs. I’m not sure why Elliott Smith‘s “Son Of Sam” was chosen to score an otherwise featherweight montage of Alex and Rosie in Boston, and using Salt ‘N Pepa‘s “Push It” as Rosie goes into labor is a stab at the kind of cruder humor the movie generally avoids. Meanwhile, the film lazily paints the various partners Rosie and Alex meet along the way as so ill-fitting for each of them, it rubs against some of the more natural charms of “Love, Rosie” which at least strives to present this contrived scenario as realistically as possible. And it again underscores that Rosie and Alex have no real threat to their romance, though the movie would’ve been so much more interesting if either of them had found a very real and fulfilling relationship in time they spent pursuing other partners.
But “Love, Rosie” doesn’t aspire to be anything more than a digestible rom-com trifle. It’s a sweet movie about sweet people who are always sweet to each other and it’s enough to make one sick on the saccharine. But there’s enough grounded emotion coupled with modest intent that it doesn’t sour the experience. Faint praise, I suppose, but it’s hard to get much more enthusiastic about a movie that wants to gently amble along to its inevitable destination where love is waiting, forever unchanged. And that Hallmark sentiment fits right in with a film that unfolds like a flowery greeting card. [C]