by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)
If you’ve been following along with the website this past week, you may have noticed that I went to the cinema a lot. A total of six times, in fact, with five of those being turned into reviews (the fifth is the one you’re reading right now, in case you’re wondering, keep up). You may have also noticed that a whole bunch of them sucked uncontrollably. Divergent, unfathomably stupid and a seemingly endless slog. The Amazing Spider-Man 2, permanent potential pulveriser that learnt absolutely nothing from its last attempt two years ago. Khumba, earnest and full of heart but amateurishly made and majorly derivative. Transcendence, “computers are scarwey and women should stay in the kitchen instead of science-ing because their emotions can’t make the tough decisions”.
In short, it’s been a bad week for movies.
I fully expected to continue regretting my voluntary decision to see and review all the recently released non-horror movies that I could in the last week as I sat down to watch The Love Punch. I’d seen one truly good film all week up to that point (Richard Ayoade’s absolutely phenomenal The Double) and I wasn’t expecting a film whose trailer’s centrepiece gag was having its middle-aged cast all rush off to the toilets for a wee in quick succession to one another to suddenly turn around my fortunes. But do you know what? Perhaps it’s due to having been beaten down by incessantly bad films for the better part of a week, perhaps my standards have been sufficiently lowered as a result, perhaps they caused a desire in me to give a positive review to something, frickin’ anything, at this point, but I really enjoyed The Love Punch.
OK, before we move on, I should probably clarify that it’s not actually down to any of those things. I may be human, but I can still tell a bad movie from a good one even when I’ve spent an extended period of time wading through the crap. So, if The Love Punch did stink to high heaven, I’d still be capable enough to tell you that it did. But it doesn’t, it’s actually really good. Not spell-bindingly amazing, not “Best of the Year” and most certainly not flawless but far better than its title of “The Second-Best Film I’ve Seen This Past Week” would make it sound, considering the competition.
Our story revolves around Mr. and Mrs. Jones, both divorced and staring down old age like it’s the barrel of a gun. Richard (Pierce Brosnan) is days away from retirement, has just broken up with yet another in an apparently lengthy line of young wives and is nursing feelings of loneliness and boredom. Kate (Emma Thompson) is saying goodbye to her youngest daughter as she leaves for college, is facing life alone for the first time and has resorted to Internet dating to try and find love. They’re brought back together when Richard’s company is liquidated of its assets by its new owner, taking with it everybody’s pensions but, most importantly, Richard and Kate’s which they’d stored away in order to pay off university fees, mortgages and basically everything that needs money these days.
In response, they both hop on over to France to confront the man personally responsible for the mess (Laurent Lafitte). When he gloats about how he doesn’t have to give them jack as what he did was apparently totally legal, and he does so whilst all but twirling his non-existent moustache, the pair decide to get back at him another way: by stealing a diamond necklace from him valued at $10 million, recruiting their mutual married friends (Timothy Spall and Celia Imrie) to help out. Does such a set-up lead to a lot of comical misunderstandings, testing of the married couple’s relationship, the possible romantic reconciliation of our two leads with one another and a whole bunch of things you have likely seen and promptly forgotten about before? Why of course it does!
So, it’s silly and light. There’s little depth here. It’s not really got anything to say, it’s not pushing any boundaries and nobody in the story is ever in any real danger (not even during an Italian Job homage near the end). Honestly, though, that’s actually one of the film’s biggest strengths. There’s not a bad bone in its body, it’s all very pleasant and nice but it doesn’t feel patronisingly so or cynically calculated. It feels genuine so it comes off more like a nice warm prolonged hug than an endless talking down to or insulting of my intelligence. That’s a harder line to walk than one might think but The Love Punch pulls it off and that atmosphere is what helps propel the film through its very brisk 90 minute run time.
The other thing that helps make The Love Punch a very recommendable experience? Emma Thompson and Pierce Brosnan and the chemistry they have. OK, maybe that’s three things, but they are all great here. Thompson and Brosnan are, in fairness, very charming and likable actors who could coast their way through roles without even trying and probably get away with it (let’s face it, Brosnan did for four straight Bond films) but they’re on fine form here. Both understand that this isn’t the next Schindler’s List but that such a fact doesn’t give them carte blanche to sleepwalk through the movie. They strike up a great chemistry together, rattling off witty dialogue and fast-paced bickering so naturally it almost seems second nature to them, and that chemistry helps sell the romance at the centre so that I actually felt super warm inside at the finale. They’re clearly having a lot of fun, too, which again helps with the enjoyably breezy and light nature of the film.
Joke-wise, this is supposed to be a comedy after all, much like the rest of the film, no ground is being broken and you probably won’t remember any of them or be quoting anything from it in several months’ time. They are often funny though and this is because, and this is why The Love Punch often gets away with things that the similarly “let’s watch some aging and otherwise classy actors go have a fun holiday somewhere and be all silly”-themed Last Vegas doesn’t, the jokes are based on the film being aware of how silly it is and are based on the characters, not the actors. Most of the time. For example, there’s a section where our four actors put on some scuba gear and ridiculously go paddling out into the sea in order to break into their mark’s cliff-side mansion. Despite how that may read, the film doesn’t play it as “Look! It’s James Bond and Emma Thompson in scuba-diving gear! That’s inherently funny! Laugh!” Instead, it goes for “Look! Kate and Richard’s plan involves them having to get into scuba gear that makes them look rather stupid! Isn’t this whole thing rather silly and unbelievable?” And it is, so I laughed.
An earlier example involves Kate having to go undercover by pathetically passing herself off as a relative of the bad guy’s bride-to-be at her beach-based hen party; cue a montage of Kate partaking in volleyball, jet-skis and parasailing whilst attached to a speedboat. Once again, the film doesn’t treat the joke as “Look! It’s Emma Thompson in a 50s-style bathing suit partaking in young people’s activities! You wouldn’t have expected her to do that, would you? LAUGH!!” Instead playing it as “Look at what Kate’s gotten herself into, now!” and that’s a key distinction because these don’t just feel like an endless series of one-note “Look how we managed to get [x] actor to debase themselves for your entertainment now!” scenarios, they instead feel grounded in actual characters, like there’s a reason for their existence.
I did specify “most of the time” for a reason though and that’s because, yes, sometimes the film does cross the line and ask us to laugh because “it’s [y] actor doing a wacky thing that you wouldn’t have expected because THEY’RE GETTING OLD!” and you can tell when it’s crossed that line because it will bust out the super slo-mo camera and back the scene with hip-hop for ‘ironic’ effect. These only stick out because they’re so lazy and they betray the effort that’s gone into crafting the better jokes. Like the way that Kate and Richard will both enter into a very quick diatrabe argument whenever one forgets to use the term “ex” when explaining their relationship to people before snapping back like nothing had ever happened, or their brief interactions with their university-based hacker son and his criminally unlucky roommate, or the utterly paper-thin nature of their heist plan, or what happens when the bride-to-be starts having a public crisis of conscience, or when Jerry, the husband friend, buys a gun. They’re often easy, but there’s effort put into that easiness, a choice to try and make funny jokes that don’t offend anyone or have much teeth but are still funny, which is something that lesser comedies can’t seem to pull off.
So, yeah, it’s lightweight but when has that necessarily been an automatically bad thing? Something nice and light can be appealing comfort food, a nice time at the cinema to escape from life’s troubles for a while, that’s trying very hard to not try hard in a way that isn’t immensely loathsome. The Love Punch, then, is the film equivalent of a slice of trifle and I very much love a nice slice of trifle every now and again. It’s very British, smooth, lacking in edge but leaves you feeling all nice and warm and fuzzy for a very good while after digesting it. Of course, trifle doesn’t have a very enjoyable to watch Pierce Brosnan and Emma Thompson, so I guess what I’m trying to say is that you should check out The Love Punch because it’s better than trifle. Or something.
Callum Petch took her home to his place, watchin’ every move on her face. Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!