Genre: Comedy, Romance
Directed by: Justin Reardon
Starring: Chris Evans, Michelle Monaghan, Aubrey Plaza, Topher Grace
With Captain America duties taking up such a huge chunk of Chris Evans’ filmography, it’s easy to forget that he does make movies outside of the Marvel franchise. Following on from his debut directorial project, Before We Go, Evans takes another stab at the romantic comedy genre, this time in Justin Reardon’s Playing It Cool.
Evans plays the ‘Narrator’, a screenplay writer who is commissioned to pen a script for the next big rom-com movie. The fact that Evans’ character has never been in love is quite the stumbling block. How can someone write about romance when they don’t believe in it? Cue Michelle Monaghan’s ‘Her’, the perfect woman who might just be the inspiration our disenchanted Narrator is looking for.
What follows is a dot-to-dot romantic comedy which tries to be quirky and self-aware, but crumbles into the same pitfalls the Narrator warns us of at the beginning. For a film about the clichés of love, Playing it Cool falls for almost every one of them. At first it comes across as a parody of the genre, but that endearing mockery gets lost about midway through when the film descends into full-blown Hollywood rom-com.
At one point the Narrator lists the clichéd characters in a romantic film, and it’s an amusing moment until you realise that Playing it Cool is guilty of the very same crime. There’s the guy with commitment issues who stumbles upon that one girl who could turn it all around for him. Step away from the central couple and we’re gifted the group of writer friends who support the leading man with sharp quips and sage advice; there’s the angry token gal pal, the gay best friend and the slightly odd dude who everyone dismisses. See the rom-com pattern emerging?
Playing it Cool might dally in over-familiar tropes but it’s held together by a capable cast that knows exactly how to woo their audience. As the thrown-off-his-game lead, Chris Evans is a million miles away from Steve Rogers’ all-American action man. Evans has such a natural on-screen presence that it’s difficult not to enjoy the film when he’s in front of the camera. Michelle Monaghan meanwhile is a seasoned veteran of the romantic genre, and she brings a likeable warmth to her character. Her chemistry with Evans is one of the best elements of the film and it’s easy to get swept away with their dynamic repartee.
The rest of the cast are equally watchable, even if Aubrey Plaza and Anthony Mackie draw the short straws in terms of the screen time they deserve vs. the screen time they actually have. Topher Grace, Luke Wilson and Martin Starr round off the friendship group, while there are also miniscule appearances from Patrick Warbuton, Ioan Grufford (as Her’s ‘stuffy’ boyfriend) and Philip Baker Hall. With this sort of star power it’s surprising that Playing It Cool received such a limited release.
There are some stylish moments dotted throughout the film. An animated scene which relays the Narrator’s granddad’s own story of love amidst war is a nice little interlude, but these artistic moments seem out of kilter with the rest of the film’s tone. It’s also disappointingly obvious where the plot is heading as it trundles towards an end that could only be described as sickly.
Playing it Cool tries to mimic the realistic stance on love established in the wonderfully quirky 500 Days of Summer. Unfortunately it doesn’t have that bitter sweetness that made 500 Days such a hit, and it can’t resist descending into sentimentalism in order to give the boy-meets-girl story a happy ending.
For a debut film, Justin Reardon’s efforts should be commended. It might fall into the traps it addresses but it remains a watchable movie throughout. Chris Shafer and Paul Vicknair’s script also raises a couple of genuine chuckles, mainly due to Chris Evans’ delivery, which never misses a beat. Playing it Cool’s heart is very much in the right place, it’s just not a place you’d care to visit more than once.