Eight years ago, Nia Vardalos and John Corbett made romantic comedy magic with their sleeper hit, My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Both of them had terrible hair (his was long and stringy, hers was permed) and their characters had an uphill battle, but their charm and a fun script overcame whatever stylistic hurdles they may have faced.
In I Hate Valentine’s Day, Corbett and Vardalos reunite for a decidedly scaled-down, lower-budget affair. Vardalos, who also wrote and directed the film, plays a Brooklyn florist who has a five-date limit, no matter how dashing, charming or otherwise awesome her suitor may be. Genevieve’s belief is that the fun stops after the fifth date, so her rules — which also outline her preferred type and sequence of dates — are designed to ensure maximum romance with a minimum of downers like, say, rejection or boredom.
Genevieve’s little rule book works beautifully until the day that Greg (Corbett), a hunky restauranteur, walks into her flower shop. Eventually (but not soon enough), Greg starts jumping through Genevieve’s dating hoops, trying to woo her and loving every minute. Their problems begin of course, after date number five when they see that the rules don’t always apply. While Greg develops some cajones — a lengthy process that unfolds over several major holidays — Genevieve faces some of her own demons, including her aged, cheating father and her fears of getting hurt.
Fundamentally, Valentine’s Day has an unusual premise that turns the conventional male-female dating dynamic on its head. Vardalos’ writing, however, often leaves much to be desired, relying on broad strokes for her ample supporting cast and dragging out each story beat for longer than the average viewer can take. Particularly annoying are Genevieve’s gay assistants at the shop, whose happy-dances and obsession with celebrity eyebrows are simply insulting. While every cast member is more than capable (the roster includes comedy heavyweights like 30 Rock’s Judah Friedlander and Rachel Dratch), the film’s finer moments are mostly lost in a rocky sea of heavy-handedness.
The film’s DVD commentary helps matters. Vardalos and two of the movie’s producers lay out the nitty-gritty of what it took to make the film on a tiny budget, down to issues like lighting, bond brinksmanship, camera loaners and a skeleton crew. So while Valentine’s Day‘s DIY-style is overt, the commentary personalizes the effort, making it impossible not to overlook it’s less-than-slick feel. It would also serve well as a how-to guide for aspiring filmmakers with more friends than funds.
Considering some of the film’s foibles, it’s even more impressive that Vardalos and her producers were able to pull it off, particularly with such a stellar group of actors. I Hate Valentine’s Day boasts heartfelt messages about love, life and taking risks (painful scenes and all). Its DVD edition bears all that, plus a few lessons about commitment, both personal and professional.