Romantic comedies seem to have soured more than most movie genres. It could be due to their insistence on happy endings, or perhaps it’s the rigid structure that demands easily avoidable conflict followed by the protagonist breathlessly chasing down his or her true love just in time for the end credits. Whatever the reasons, if the romantic comedy is to survive and provide awkward first date nights for future generations, it will need filmmakers willing to push these boundaries — filmmakers like Catalina Aguilar Mastretta, the writer/director of Everybody Loves Somebody.
Los Angeles OB-GYN Clara (Karla Souza) leads a satisfying and (mostly) solitary existence that is occasionally interrupted by one-night stands she abandons as soon as the sun comes up. She has her reasons, of course: Raised by unmarried parents and abandoned by Daniel (José María Yazpik), the only man she ever really loved, Clara’s not big on commitment. When her parents finally decide to tie the knot after 40 years together, she reluctantly takes sister Abby’s advice and invites Asher (Ben O’Toole), a pediatrician co-worker, to the Mexican wedding. Unfortunately, her not-so-carefully-laid plans hit the fan when Daniel makes a surprise appearance.
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Yes, the framework is familiar, but Mastretta’s affecting script and realistic performances from Souza and Tiaré Scanda (as married-with-children sister Abby) offer enough motivation for us to stay engaged. The characters also exhibit some welcome depth. There’s no direct vilification of Daniel, who’s as open about his shortcomings as he is his love for Clara, nor is there the expected sanctification of Asher. True, he’s meant to be the unassuming nice-guy alternative to Daniel (also a doctor, but a “bad boy” version who works for Doctors Without Borders), but O’Toole occasionally — and, one assumes, inadvertently — comes across as menacing. If anything, this demonstrates the difficulty Mastretta has in walking the line between romantic comedy’s historically stalker-friendly foundations and something more nuanced.
Still, not everything works. Mastretta has a sitcom writer’s fondness for precocious kids, and the third act ties all these romantic threads up a little too tidily (how many of these films ever have unhappy endings?). It’s worth hoping that audiences won’t be put off by bilingual dialogue or the concept of women sleeping around as nonchalantly as their male cinematic counterparts, but they might be incensed by the suggestion that one can drive from anywhere in Mexico to L.A. in a mere three hours, as Carla regularly does.
With films like Echo Park and Las horas contigo already under her belt, Mastretta is firming up her reputation as a master of the understated “amusing love” movie (there are only so many ways to say “romantic comedy”). By eschewing bombast and mostly avoiding genre pitfalls, she’s delivered her strongest effort to date. Everybody Loves Somebody won’t reinvent the (third) wheel, but the knowing dialogue and convincingly human characters are a refreshing break from the norm and worthy of your attention. Also, always remember to allow yourself at least an hour to get through customs.
Everybody Loves Somebody
Starring Karla Souza, José María Yazpik, Ben O'Toole, K. C. Clyde, Tiaré Scanda, Patricia Bernal, and Alejandro Camacho. Written and directed by Catalina Aguilar Mastretta. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday, February 17.