Among the best of the recent batch is the witty caper movie, The Art of the Steal, with Kurt Russell, Kenneth Welsh, Jay Baruchel, Kevin Dillon, Terence Stamp and others
But as much as it’s important to promote and celebrate the good efforts — when it comes to writing essays, there’s more grist in looking at those that didn’t quite win the cigar. Among that latter category is the romantic comedy, the unfortunately named The Right Kind of Wrong.
Movie reviews are, by necessity, pretty perfunctory things. A reviewer offers an opinion in a few hundred words. But I sometimes like to dig deeper. In a sense to apply a bit of the workshopping and critical assessment to the final film that should’ve been applied before they started shooting.
So I’m going to look at the Right Kind of Wrong and offer more in-depth consideration. Since the movie currently has a 15% critics rating at Rotten Tomatoes (and 43% audience rating) I’m sure even those who put it together are aware it’s worth entertaining some constructive critiques.
The Right Kind of Wrong is a romantic comedy about a blissfully content underachiever, played by Australian actor Ray Kwanten — well, content except his ex-wife (Kristen Hager) left him months ago, and has made him a public laughingstock having penned a hugely popular blog detailing all his faults (called WhyYouSuck). Then one day he spies a woman (Sara Canning) and decides to win her. The fact that he fell for her before they had even exchanged two words is less a complication than the fact that he spies her — at her own wedding!
Now before analyzing/criticizing a movie you have to be careful. You have to respect the story they are trying to tell, and not simply criticize it because you wanted a different story. And TRKOW is based on the novel Sex & Sunsets by Tim Sandlin, which I haven’t read, further restricting how far we can consider changes.
Still, with that acknowledged, let’s dive in.
I suppose maybe the first, basic thing is it’s a “comedy” — and I just didn’t find it that funny. Amiable at times. Maybe a chuckle here and there. But not laff-riot enough that the gags could carry it on their own. In a movie like TRKOW, the jokes have to support — or are supported by — a plot and characters that hold your attention.
I do think the central premise is flawed — a romance based on a guy obsessively pursuing a (married) woman before he’s even spoken to her! As the central driving motivation upon which the entire narrative is built — it’s dubious. (Apparently in the novel the hero was supposed to be a bit, well, crazy — a fact the filmmakers leave out, presumably because it would make it less a mainstream rom-com and more a quirky indie film).
And there’s a fine line between a hero who’s lovably determined — and one who is a creepy stalker, obsessively pursuing a woman who has repeatedly told him to leave her alone!
A big problem with TRKOW is that I didn’t find the characters interesting — or especially likeable. But even I’m not sure if I didn’t find them likeable because they weren’t interesting, or they weren’t interesting because I didn’t find them likeable. But I think part of that relates to the fact that there isn’t really much going on besides the romantic comedy/triangle stuff.
Even romantic comedies often have some secondary plot, one that both can caulk up the windy bits in the script, but also one that helps to define and establish the characters so that we come to like and care about them. In the case of TRKOW we’re expected to be wholly committed to their romantic futures in the first five minutes — this is particularly problematic with Canning’s character since even the hero doesn’t really know anything about her at first!
In TRKOW pretty much every scene relates to the characters/romance.
Now obviously either extreme can be bad. I’ve seen movies where the problem is the plot is too unfocused. “Romantic comedies” where so little attention is paid to the romance it barely registers!
There’s also an inherent shallow superficiality to the characters and, by extension, the movie. A fact made doubly awkward given the movie hammers away at themes about integrity and principle as though it thinks it has some deep meaning. The hero is content with his life as a dishwasher — he has no aspirations, and though he has friends, he doesn’t really contribute anything. While Canning’s character is supposed to do feistily rebellious things like steal newspapers to protest “the man” or lead a local tour of quirky spots around town (including giving the finger to developers). Actually that latter aspect hints at some potential — but never really delivers. Ultimately her acts of defiance seem more about making her feel good about herself than contributing to social change.
Toward the end, Canning discovers her husband has threatened an innocent family with deportation to get his way. She’s upset — but then her dialogue veers into some odd speech about easy vs difficult actions, as if she’s angry because her husband’s actions reflect laziness. When surely the issue was, um, he was threatening to deport innocent people just to get his way!!!
And while focusing on the main characters, and being uninteresting and/or unlikeable, part of the problem I think relates to the unwillingness to rock the boat of narrative cliches.
And this all ties into the War on Intelligence!
The hero is supposed to a lovable good ol’ boy. Yet he’s also supposed to have written a (failed) novel and his best friend runs a small publishing house and whose wife is a painter. So wouldn’t that suggest a certain type of person? A — dare I say it? — an intellectual?
This is something I’ve noticed in other movies — movies where they want to make the hero a writer, or professor, or artist, or something…but then balk at actually depicting him as having any characteristics that might make him seem too intellectual to their target audience. I’m not sure we see the hero even reading a book in the movie, let alone believe he could — or would — write one. Writers like ideas. They like words. They like language. It should be reflected in the character.
Another problem is Canning’s character’s husband and his friends. They are appalling. And I think that’s a problem on a few levels. One, it’s always a bit of a problem in a story if you have to rely on one-dimensional characters to keep the story floating, and maybe relates to my point about superficiality. Two, does it really work in a “comedy” to have characters who are so reprehensible? Thirdly, surely in a romantic triangle you want to make the rival agreeable so we can at least wonder who will end up with whom (I had the same complaint about My Awkward Sexual Adventure). As well, since the heroine fell in love with the other guy first — it reflects on her. (In TV’s Smallville, Lana Lang’s relation with the borderline psycho Whitney really didn’t speak too well of her character).
And perhaps a good illustration of this integral shallowness is a sequence involving a hang glider.
The hero is agoraphobic, something his ex-wife detailed in her blog for all to know. Convinced that if he can just prove one of the aspersions cast upon him to be false, he will win Canning’s heart, he sets out to overcome his fear of heights by taking up hang gliding.
Now, to be fair, this leads to what was probably seen as the movie’s signature slapstick scene — so I understand to the filmmakers it was important.
But here’s my problem: the whole point of the blog is that the ex-wife isn’t really wrong — her catalogue of his failings and foibles is pretty much right on the money. But in order to prove himself to his true love, instead of our hero vowing to change any of his actual bad habits — he focuses on overcoming the inconsequential and non-character defining agoraphobia.
He focus on a superficial obstacle that just reinforces the superficiality of the characters.
And I guess while I’m dwelling on the hang glider scene: earlier in the film the hero is beaten up by a gang of kids (putting aside whether that’s funny in the context), this then leads to the some other characters trying to scare the leader of the kid gang by warning him the hero is a dangerous drug dealer (which leads to other complications). Yet then it’s that same kid who mischievously hits the hero with a slingshot during the hang glider scene. But if he was worried the hero was a dangerous criminal — would he be firing slingshots at him? It’s a minor point — nitpicking, even. But it’s from such little (in)consistencies that the bigger story starts to fray. And the fact that it bothered me probably is indicative I was no longer willing — or able — to suspend disbelief and just go along for the ride.
I could go on.
Kwanten is personable enough, but Canning I didn’t find was able to rise above her role to make me care about her character, or to hope the hero ended up with her. (And speaking as a guy — if I’m not interested in the female love interest, surely that’s a flaw in a romance!) If only because I watch the Canadian-version of Being Human, I was disappointed Kristen Hager didn’t have more to do. Will Sasso and Catherine O’Hara make decent impressions in supporting parts, though the scene stealers are two precocious kids played by Mateen Devji and Maya Samy.
Ultimately, for a motion picture, TRKOW comes across like a lot of those terribly mild Lifetime Channel/Hallmark Channel rom-coms that Canadians churn out fairly regularly — albeit with slightly more money, but maybe less charm.
Now, obviously, no one — the filmmakers included — should take my post as anything more than the observation of one viewer, who saw the film once (and might well reassess it if I saw it a second time).
However, I don’t think The Right Kind of Wrong has done well, commercially or critically, so the filmmakers might do well to consider some of the criticism, to see what — if any — of the comments resonate with them and can be factored into their next project.
About Me…NEW: A Collection of my Canadian Film & TV Essays...
I’ve been writing provocatively on-line since around 1998: about Canadian film/TV, Canadian culture & identity, as well as about comic books and graphic novels. But I also occasionally write fiction, with stories published in Strange Horizons, Daily SF, On Spec, the acclaimed Tesseracts anthology (the 19th volume), and other places over the years. I mention this because I’ve put out a few pulp story collections. And if you enjoy this blog, essays, reviews, and/or any of my websites, one way to show support would be to check out MY FICTION COLLECTIONS and, if they look interesting…buy one! It ain’t PATREON or anything, but it’s a way of showing you think what I’ve been doing is worth doing, and would help keep this blog and the websites up. End of shameless plug.
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