Twenty-eight-year-old actress Zoey Deutch was either born at the wrong time to star in romantic comedies, or at the perfect time to redeem them. If only it were both. If only people were still making rom-coms worthy of the light and lovability that Deutch — who previously flirted with the genre in Netflix’s “Set It Up,” between spikier roles in the likes of “Everybody Wants Some!!” and “Not Okay” — is more capable of bringing to them than just about anyone this side of Meg Ryan.
But they’re not, and nowhere is that more obvious than in a warm but weak-spirited holiday trifle like “Something from Tiffany’s,” which gives Deutch a chance to shine at full-wattage during a movie that can hardly muster the energy to power a string of Christmas lights. I guess it’s fitting that her character is more of a Hanukkah kind of girl, because the fire she brings to the role is almost strong enough to keep this contrived love story burning (at the lowest of simmers) for 83 minutes.
Adapted from the Melissa Hill novel of the same name, “Something from Tiffany’s” starts with a premise sweatier than Patrick Ewing at halftime, forcing Tamara Chestna’s script to untangle some ultra-messy story beats when it needs to be more focused on sparking a love connection. The action begins at the titular jewelry store on one of those magical New York City nights, as a cartoonishly good-looking widower named Ethan (“Insecure” breakout Kendrick Smith Sampson) and his pre-teen daughter Daisy (Leah Jeffries) shop for the engagement ring that Ethan plans on giving to his gorgeous but aloof girlfriend, Vanessa (Shay Mitchell).
Standing on the curb outside after making his fateful purchase, Ethan is bumped into by some harried white shmo who races out of Tiffany’s with a little blue bag of his own before getting run over by a yellow cab. That’s when — in a classic mix-up that “Lola Versus” director Daryl Wein shoots with all the clarity of a scene from “Last Year in Marienbad” — the two men end up walking away with the wrong gifts.
So far, so typical of the genre. Even Daisy’s insistence that Ethan bring her to the hospital in order to check on the injured stranger feels plausible enough by rom-com standards; I mean, how else is Ethan supposed to meet the victim’s radiant and ever-upbeat girlfriend Rachel (Deutch), a baker who seems to run her Little Italy restaurant and Bryant Park pop-up on pluck and cornettos alone?
But things don’t get really clunky until the gifts are exchanged: Ethan is surprised to learn that he got Vanessa a modest pair of earrings, while cash-strapped tattoo artist Gary (Ray Nicholson, son of Jack) is shocked to discover that he bought Rachel an engagement ring as big as the Ritz even though the two of them have never talked about tying the knot. Adding to Gary’s shock is the fact that he was apparently hit by one of those fancy new amnesia cabs (only in Eric Adams’ New York!), and can’t remember if he meant to propose to Rachel or not. He knows he couldn’t afford the diamond, but when a bright-eyed chef who talks to her soup and wears a Zabar’s t-shirt with the grace of a little black dress agrees to be your wife, you don’t give her a reason to back out.
“Something from Tiffany’s” is actually at its best during the 49 minutes it spends checking receipts, in part because the movie is a lot more interesting before Gary is just an oblivious doofus à la Peter Gallagher in “While You Were Sleeping.” You know, before he’s inevitably unmasked as a full-blown schmuck who’s so bad for Rachel that you can’t tell if she’s falling in love with a new guy or just escaping her ex’s clutches; Nicholson’s glowering performance doesn’t exactly leave much room for mystery, but it’s hard to imagine anyone being able to inject some life into the limp climactic scene when the character reveals his true colors.
Better as it seems that Vanessa is spared the indignity of becoming a wicked stepmother, the movie’s reasons for kicking this fairy-tale-flawless woman to the curb — she doesn’t want to live in New York? She thinks that Ethan’s first novel sucked and he should stick to academia? — are somehow even less satisfying. True love has a funny way of revealing any current or previous imitations, but the lethargic “Something from Tiffany’s” doesn’t offer any of the laughs that ought to go along with that.
What the movie does have is a certain holiday charm, even if the chemistry between Sampson and Deutch is far from combustible, and the connection between Ethan and Rachel feels about as real and nuanced as a relationship in a Christmas-themed Lexus commercial (the only surprise this half-hearted movie has to offer is that it doesn’t end with Rachel gifting Ethan an SUV with a giant bow on top). It’s New York in December. Everyone is wearing nice peacoats. It snows at just the right moment. Wein appears to have shot the scenes involving Rachel’s pop-up in the festive glow of the real Bryant Park, which lends his film the faint measure of credibility it needs to keep local viewers from snickering at how Ethan’s “secret spot” is actually one of the most popular gathering places in the entire city.
Regardless, “Something at Tiffany’s” sold me on the notion that Ethan and Rachel found each other in an enchanted world, even if the movie never musters a compelling reason why these two extremely beautiful people should walk through it together. Sure, Ethan and Rachel bond over their shared history of personal failure (there’s nothing better than finding love during your flop era), and each of them needs to learn to take risks and follow their hearts.
But these characters are thinly sketched even by the most generous of rom-com standards — beyond his recessive demeanor, it often seems like the Ethan has straight-up forgotten about his dead first wife — and the writing is never remotely sharp enough to poke holes through their armor. Rachel is left to rely on a nuclear-powered charm offensive, as Deutch’s grounded semi-guilelessness steamrolls over the movie’s silly plotting, absent emotional seriousness, and almost complete lack of jokes.
As the story petered out towards its shrug of a happy ending, I found myself far more eager for Nancy Meyers to save Deutch from Wein than I was for Ethan to save Rachel from Gary. Unlike “Something from Tiffany’s,” that would surely be a gift worth keeping.
“Something from Tiffany’s” will be available to stream on Prime Video starting Friday, December 9.