Everyone wants Lucy Sherrington. Well, every man wants Lucy Sherrington, and in the world where Nick Wernham’s “No Stranger Than Love” takes place, that’s enough to create an entire character (and drive a good chunk of a film’s narrative). From her teenage art students to her bosses, from a local cop to the old man at the hardware store (who snarls, “You make a man growl, that’s all there is to it!”), everyone wants Lucy Sherrington, and damn if they don’t feel like it’s a-okay to say so.
While most of Lucy’s (Alison Brie) wannabe suitors are respectful – garbage collectors attempt to woo her through feats of strength, all done at a reasonable distance – some couldn’t care less about what she wants or if their wooing makes her uncomfortable. A student draws a naked picture of her in the middle of class, her principal forces her into a closet for an unasked-for rendezvous and Lucy is expected to react with the charm and grace that’s seemingly made her so popular around town. “No Stranger Than Love” treats its leading lady as an object meant to be appraised by others, and that’s long before the feature gets around to its quirky twist (one that also hinges on Lucy’s attractiveness).
Beyond the constant harassment and propositions, Lucy’s life seems pretty great: She lives in a cute town, has a fulfilling job, a big house and lots of friends. Everyone loves her! But who does Lucy love? While men are throwing themselves at her feet, Lucy hasn’t found the right guy. However, Lucy does have one strong possibility: High school football coach Clint (Colin Hanks), who has made an impression by, well, acting like every other man she knows. Oh, and he’s married.
So, we have the irresistible Lucy dating a married man (although his wife, portrayed by Robin Brule, has no discernible character or personality, so maybe that’s why it’s not a problem). And furthermore, Clint and Lucy have spent the last three years dating while being “respectful of people” (or as Clint likes to say, “smoldering”). Finally, they move toward actually sexing, but she balks. Clint tries to set her ease, the only way he knows how: He strips naked and pledges to resist touching her until she tells him she loves him, too.
And then, the second Lucy says, “I love you,” a giant hole opens up in her living room, swallowing Clint whole. No wonder she’s got some trepidation about romance.
As Lucy struggles to free Clint from the hole (they can hear each other, but Clint appears to have been sucked into a dark void), the film’s tone doubles down on the surreal. Brie gamely attempts to play along, even as the film continues to suffer from its ham-fisted handling of the central character and her own world. Lay down that hole earlier, and maybe there’s more wiggle room for these heightened emotions and experiences. However, “No Stranger Than Love” goes for weirdness way too late.
Brie has already proven her ability to flip romantic comedy tropes (thanks to the underseen gem that is Leslye Headland’s “Sleeping With Other People”) and she tries her damnedest to lift both Lucy and the film out of the, forgive me, very large hole that Wernham digs. Brie infuses her character with enough sophistication that it’s clear she doesn’t think being the object of everyone’s lust is fun or funny or flattering, and her exhaustion at everyone’s behavior is palpable. Too bad, then, that the film itself can’t express a similar worldview.
That Lucy finds her way to an unexpected new suitor (Justin Chatwin) in the midst of the madness unfolding in her living room isn’t shocking, but that he’s the only man in her life that doesn’t treat her like a sentient sex doll is a pleasant surprise. By the time the entire town discovers that Clint is trapped in a weird hole and Lucy has fallen for Chatwin’s Rydell White, “No Stranger Than Love” picks up some serious steam, balancing its bizarre tone with actual charm. Sadly, however, it’s too late to pull the production out of its own gaping void: The inability to treat its characters with respect.
“No Stranger Than Love” will be available in select theaters and On Demand on Friday, June 17.