Discerning moviegoers should understand that romantic comedies are, by their very nature, fantasies created with the sole intention of making audiences feel good. But it takes even more discerning moviegoers to distinguish the good romcom fantasies from the bad ones – that is, the ones that don’t work hard enough to convince audiences to accept them as they are. My fear is that The Right Kind of Wrong won’t be seen for the bad fantasy that it is, that it will be lumped into the same category as the harmless, lightweight, well-intentioned romantic comedies released at a fairly consistent rate.
It’s an odd and annoying film, populated by characters that aren’t even remotely engaging, founded on a premise that’s contrived even by romcom standards, and filled with individual scenes that are either ludicrously silly or ridiculously serious.
Adapted from the novel Sex & Sunsets by Tim Sandlin, the central character is a divorced writer/kitchen dishwasher named Leo Palamino (Ryan Kwanten), who has been the subject of public humiliation since the inception of a blog started by his ex-wife, Julie (Kristen Hager), which detailed his failings as both a husband and as a person in general. The blog, tactfully titled Why You Suck, surged in popularity and eventually spawned a book, turning Julie into a literary celebrity. What we learn as the movie progresses is that some of her criticisms of Leo are spot on. Take, for example, the fact that he blew his one shot at having his own novel published by refusing to let it be edited; so disgusted was he by the publisher’s suggestions that he actually flew to New York and gave this person the finger.
The obvious intention is to make us like Leo, but it’s hard to imagine how anyone could like someone so stubborn and impulsive. These traits factor prominently into the main plot, in which he persistently tries to convince a woman named Colette (Sara Canning) that the two of them are unquestionably meant to be together. He determined this, it should be noted, the instant he laid eyes on her – at her wedding. Her new husband, Danny (Ryan McPartlin), an ivy-league stereotype who comes from a wealthy family, is both a lawyer and the founder of a children’s charity camp, so by all outward appearances, he and Colette are a perfect match. But of course, we wouldn’t have a movie if this was the case. Entitled and vindictive, there will come a point at which Danny can no longer repress his seething hatred of Leo, so he and his friends will hire a group of teenage boys to beat the crap out of him.
Colette will spend much of the film resisting Leo, although it’s obvious right from the start that she has much more in common with him than with Danny, so we wait impatiently for the moment when she will finally let her guard down. She’s a tour guide for the small Canadian mountain town she lives in and has left-wing tendencies, most notably her daily habit of shoplifting a copy of the New York Times from a coffee shop, stealing back a dollar a day from the corporation. She also has issues with her mother, Tess (Catherine O’Hara), who forced her to live on the run after stealing the money her husband had been keeping hidden from the government and eventually spending it all. Like Leo, Tess also sees through Colette’s marriage to Danny, believing she went through with it as a form of rebellion and out of a desperate longing for stability.
There are so many narrative contrivances and character quirks that utterly fly in the face of plausibility. Would Leo really be friends with a married couple (Will Sasso and Jennifer Baxter) who show their love for each other by texting each other pictures of their genitals? Would his Indian best friend (Raoul Bhaneja) really have two kids precocious enough to intimidate Danny’s teenage cronies by falsely bragging about Leo’s drug connections? Would Leo really have one potted plant of marijuana and use not a single leaf for himself recreationally, but rather medicinally for his cat, which supposedly suffers from arthritis? Would Danny really become so sadistically vengeful that he threatens to have Leo’s Indian friend and his kids deported? Would Leo really have a fear of heights and force himself to go hang gliding just to prove his ex-wife wrong?
As insufferable as I found the story, I was surprised at just how wonderful the film was to look at. Filmed mostly on location in Alberta, Canada, many individual shots of mountains, streams, and valleys are so vivid and picturesque that they call to mind the opening shots of The Sound of Music, in which in helicopter captured the natural wonders of Salzburg, Austria. But given the fact that The Right Kind of Wrong is a manufactured romantic comedy of the R-rated variety, there naturally has to be at least one scene in which these visual splendors are awkwardly paired with spontaneous outdoor sex. And, of course, there has to be a group of kids hiking that area at the exact same time, and they have to giggle helplessly as they stare at two naked people through their binoculars.
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