Review: Playing It Cool (2014)

Witty and smart script with a stellar cast, but a rom com that leaves you feeling unsatisfied

Playing It Cool tells the story of a screenwriter (Chris Evans) who is given the task to write for a movie, a romantic comedy, which he is completely reluctant to write for. He agrees, as doing this will win him the chance to write for an action movie, something he has always wanted to do. The narrator (Evans) has never truly believed in love since his mother abandoned him as a child, leaving him in the care of his grandfather with just a note. This leaves him going through life without ever falling in love or giving it a chance, breaking up with girls when they begin to get serious. Of course, this means that the narrator has no idea of how to write a romantic story. He decides that he wants to write love how it truly is, not how it’s always depicted in film.

A few days later the narrator goes to an event with his best friend (Topher Grace), which is where he meets ‘her’ (Michelle Monaghan) and feels something different. The two spark up a conversation and begin a social experiment derived from this, which convinces him that she is no ordinary woman, and which is when they just happen to bump into her boyfriend. After this encounter, in a bid to get her off his mind, he texts other girls and arranges to meet one, but has a change of heart once she agrees to spend the night with him. Enlisting the help of his best friend, the narrator decides that he needs to find her and the only way he can figure out how is to go to every charity event running in the hope she will be there. He almost gives up when he eventually finds her and so begins their not-quite-friends/not-quite-lovers relationship.

Written by Chris Schafer and Paul Vicknair, Playing It Cool is clever and full of different opinions on the subject of love, with arguments for and against love ideals. Justin Reardon makes his directional debut and does exceptionally well with quirky cinematography. It has the qualities of a typical rom com which have been seen time and time again, but is presented in a completely new and artistic way which makes the genre feel rejuvenated. Reardon has cut the typical film style with visuals of the stories of love told by various characters. The narrator puts himself in the shoes of the protagonists and, whilst this is charming and witty the first few times, it does begin to grow tired and repetitive.

Evans plays the narrator with believability and is able to win over the audience despite his colourful lies and womanising behaviour in the beginning of the movie because he is vulnerable and broken. Playing ‘her’ is Monaghan, who matches Evans’ presence and is able to charm the audience. Although the two have obvious chemistry and bounce off each other, I cannot bring myself to buy into the belief that they should end up together. Normally in rom coms the audience are engulfed by the ‘will-they-won’t-they’ love story and yearn for the two to realise their love for each other and get together in a happy ever after, but with this film I could not buy into it. I couldn’t care less if the two got together in the end and had grown bored with their love story.

The supporting actors (Grace, Aubrey Plaza and Luke Wilson) brought the film another dimension and were wholly more interesting than the love story itself. Each character had a distinct personality and depth which enrich the film as they each offer their views on both love itself and the relationship between the narrator and ‘her’. They add humour to the film and without them I believe it would fall unbelievably short. Plaza’s character, Mallory, is one to watch, as she is witty, brash and crude. A major fault in this film is that these characters were not explored enough or given enough screen time and were made to seem unimportant at times, like they were only a passing thought. One scene between Plaza and Evans could have changed the plot entirely if acknowledged, but was brushed off and Plaza’s character was left with a substandard ‘happy-ending’ which in all honestly was quite depressing.

Overall, I really wanted to like this film. While it did show promise with its interesting characters played by an excellent cast, it left me feeling unsatisfied. I still believe that there were more important issues buried in the movie that weren’t explored as well as they could have been to bring the film to its full potential. The story of the narrator’s abandonment and his relationships with his writer friends were much more interesting than the plot itself, which is discouraging, and I felt myself waiting for the parts where the supporting characters were featured and just drifting through the main storyline. It is neither particularly funny nor romantic, but if you are looking to watch a movie with quirky cinematography and metaphoric imagery then it’s worth a shot.

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