'This Means War': Why predictable rom-coms can sometimes work
SPOILER ALERT: If you’ve seen This Means War, you may have several questions: How did I not know Angela Bassett was in this? Am I the last person to find out Tom Hardy is British? Who knew Reese Witherspoon had the best legs in Hollywood? And isn’t it funny to think of the studio releasing this photo pictured, knowing now that it’s from the moment when Witherspoon’s character, Lauren, finally decides between the two CIA agents/best friends, Tuck (Hardy) and FDR (Chris Pine), who’ve spent the entire film fighting over her?
If you haven’t seen the movie, and you now feel spoiled reading the body language in that picture (we issued a spoiler alert!), do not worry: You would have known who Lauren was going to choose from almost the start of the movie. Tuck has a son and an ex he asks out to dinner early on as a “family,” and the ex declines. The cleanest out — since this is a comedy, not a drama — was always for Lauren to choose FDR so Tuck can reunite with his family (after his ex watches him be the badass he’s never allowed himself to be in front of her) and everyone is happy. That leads us to another question: So then why was this film still enjoyable?
I think Lisa Schwarzbaum’s review articulates it well. There’s a sense that everyone involved in this long-gestating project is committed to doing whatever it takes to make it fun. Witherspoon is a rom-com vet, of course, but while she begins playing uptight as usual, she loosens up and has a lightness about her that feels fresh. You want her to sing along to Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It,” clueless that Pine and Hardy are darting around her home on simultaneous reconnaissance missions? Sure. You need her to do a trapeze act with Hardy, because Tuck, like all movie romantics, has unexplained access to/knowledge of something magical and random like a circus? Great. (She did, after all, do trapeze training for Water for Elephants.) Those scenes may have made you roll your eyes — along with the idea of someone like product-tester Lauren, who is a trained observer, not noticing when FDR is being attacked by the dog he’s adopting to prove he’s not selfish — but Witherspoon’s confidence somehow keeps you from throwing in the towel.
The guys are equally in it to win it. Pine’s done rom-coms before (don’t pretend you haven’t watched The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement on ABC Family for him), but not enough that we’ve built up any resistance to his charm. It’s strong enough to make the cliché movie shorthand for playboy-turned-trustworthy — he gets sucked into Titanic and, gulp, declines sex with a flight attendant — passable. Rough-and-ready Hardy playing the sensitive bloke is unexpected, and his chemistry with Pine is just as strong as Witherspoon’s. It’s nice to see two male friends say “I love you” that easily, that often. It also makes you forget how ludicrous it would be for two agents to abuse their resources for surveillance and counter-maneuvers on each other’s dates, or to think that those two could kick each other’s asses in a restaurant and everyone would clear out but them and Lauren (who had that large bathroom to herself?) and no police would have been called. (That’s New Year’s Eve territory.) At least the boys did actually look bloody when they got into fights. That’s something most rom-coms don’t bother with.
Your turn. Did This Means War win you over? Why? Is the trick to making a predictable rom-com entertaining finding a new combination of actors that shouldn’t work on paper but totally does onscreen? Discuss!