Dir: Griffin Dunne. US. 2008. 90mins
Uma Thurman's recent track record with romantic comedy is not auspicious - neither Prime (2005) nor My Super Ex-Girlfriend (2006) turned out to be major box-office contenders. The Accidental Husband, however, should improve her standing in this genre.
There is nothing unpredictable about this glossy, screwball-style saga of misunderstandings and home truths, but it is executed with such smooth professionalism and easy warmth that it should appeal to the same, largely female, audience which made the recent P.S. I Love You such a substantial hit. UK distributor Momentum should garner sturdy returns from the early Spring title in advance of a US August release.
In Accidental Husband, Thurman plays New York radio talk show host Emma Lloyd. Her advice to the lovelorn is sensible and practical: 'You can't trust what you merely lust.' One listener treats her opinions as gospel and breaks off her engagement to firefighter Patrick (Morgan). In search of revenge, Patrick uses a friend's skills at computer hacking to secretly marry Emma, which rather spoils her plans for a dream wedding to fiance Richard (Firth), a decent, straitlaced publisher who is devoted to her.
So much you can gather from the trailer. But untangling the messy complications of Patrick's impulsive actions provides the basis of a mainstream crowdpleaser in which Emma is forced to confront whether she really knows what is best for the world or herself and in which the outcome is never in any doubt.
The material may be strictly routine but director Griffin Dunne refuses to just go through the motions. He presents New York as a city of romantic encounters and lush locations. He finds moments within a trim running time to add flavour to the blandness through secondary supporting characters like Emma's father Wilder (Sam Shepard), businessman's wife Greta (Isabella Rossellini) and Patrick's Indian/American friend Deep (Ajay Naidu).
Dunne has also ensured a perfect fit between characters and performer. Colin Firth is cast to type as the uptight, conventional Richard. Jeffrey Dean Morgan has the same kind of goofy lummox charm that endeared the young Sylvester Stallone to the world but with considerably more hunk appeal. Thurman is perfectly at home with the manic flustered Emma as she learns to abandon her inhibitions and embrace the world of spontaneity and fun that Patrick represents.
The Accidental Husband is undoubtedly laboured, especially when it strays into slapstick territory and the comedy of embarrassment - Emma drunkenly passes out in a bar and seems unnaturally klutzy for someone so confident of herself, for example, while Richard's habit of guzzling chocolate and comfort-eating seems a half-hearted attempt to breathe life into a character destined to become the other man.
Critics and film buffs may lament the fact that this kind of comedy was done with so much more panache in the days of Jean Arthur and Cary Grant but modern audiences are unlikely to prove quite so critical. The Accidental Husband will not win any awards but it does deliver undemanding, happy ending escapism.
Yari Film Group
Syndicate Films International (co Yari Film Group)
00 1 689 1450
Director of photography
Jeffrey Dean Morgan