Addicted to Love (1997)
An effective romantic comedy has to overcome the inevitability rule. That’s the rule that potential lovers, be they boys and girls, boys and boys, girls and girls, or any imaginative permutations thereof, must fall in love by the end of the movie. Without romance, the romantic comedy obviously isn’t. So the trick is to keep the audience interested until the inevitable occurs, by making the path to true love as full of potholes as possible. This generally involves various shenanigans, numerous complications, vociferous denials by one or both parties, and, almost always, at least one other person who is in love with the one of the other two. Everything gets sorted out in the end, and everybody goes home happy and stuffed full of popcorn. The end.
Boy, does Addicted To Love have potholes. Sam (Matthew Broderick) is in love with his childhood sweetheart Linda (Kelly Preston). But Linda leaves for New York and falls in love with Anton (Tcheky Karyo). So Sam abandons his career as an astronomer in order to gaze upon Linda in her little downtown lovenest. Enter Maggie (Meg Ryan), Anton’s ex, who went a little psycho when he dumped her for Linda. Maggie invades the crumbling, condemned tenement where Sam spies on Linda with an elaborate camera obscura, and sets up an equally elaborate bugging system so the two stalkers can also listen in as Linda and Anton have sex, and eat, and eat during sex, and so on. Will Maggie and Sam fall in love? But of course.
First, however, they have to cause Anton and Linda to break up through various overly elaborate and complicated schemes. Sam does it because he thinks he still wants Linda back. Maggie doesn’t want Anton back, and she won’t settle for just ruining his relationship -- she wants to ruin his entire life. These two wounded hearts take a substantial detour into wrath and resentment on their way to true love.
Addicted To Love has replaced Cupid’s arrows with poison arrows, and that’s a fatal misfire. A dark romantic comedy isn’t a bad idea, but the execution of this one just doesn’t work. The dialogue and acting are stylized in a way that is stiff rather than witty -- there’s an obvious attempt here to make the sort of wild screwball romances that Wilder and Hawks used to make, but it falls flat because the script by Robert Gordon is sloppy and heavy-handed, with too little wit and too much venom. First-time director Griffin Dunne adds nifty visual touches to the movie, particularly in the interesting use of the camera obscura, but his nice style doesn’t hide the unpleasantness of the story.
Not one of the principle characters in Addicted To Love is particularly appealing, and even worse, it’s next to impossible to understand what any of them see in each other. That is pretty difficult to do with cute actors like Ryan and Broderick, but, alas, they get dragged down along with the rest of the movie. Addicted To Love features a pretty morose and unsympathetic bunch: Sam and Maggie are motivated by jealousy and revenge fantasies, Anton is a scoundrel, and Linda is a flighty codependent who loves the one she’s with, whoever that may be. These are not exactly good candidates for healthy, happily ever after romance.
Addicted To Love has its moments, as when Linda repeatedly sends her long-faced Dad (Nesbitt Blaisdell) to read Dear John letters to her victims-- but those moments are too few and far between, while the movie too frequently stretches credulity, even for a comedy, by being downright dumb (like when Sam gazes at galaxies through his telescope *at noon*.) The plots hatched by Sam and Maggie are too far-fetched and generally downright cruel -- by the end of the movie, creepy, misogynistic Anton is the most sympathetic character, and even he is still a jerk.
The romantic comedy is essentially a character study -- everything is designed to move characters towards romantic epiphany and a change of heart. But there are no real changes of heart in this cynical movie, and there are definitely no epiphanies of any kind. In fact, there is precious little heart at all in Addicted To Love. Taking the romance and love out of a romantic comedy is like taking the murder out of a murder mystery -- what you’re left with is neither comedy nor mystery. There’s nothing to hang your hat on in Addicted To Love -- if any of these characters ever were addicted to love, they’ve long been cured.