Director Kat Coiro‘s (L!fe Happens) latest feature, A Case of You will undoubtedly enter the pantheon of “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” movies. You know the kind – movies that glorify the precious nature of spritely, eccentric leading ladies who make their “normal” suitor’s heart got pitter-patter. Our MPG here is named Birdie Hazel (Evan Rachel Wood), a barista at a Brooklyn coffee shop – she wears fedoras, draws caricatures in Prospect Park, and takes ballroom dancing with a pack of admiring senior citizens. She also has an unparalleled taste in music literature, as she appreciates the likes of both Joni Mitchell and Walt Whitman.
When struggling writer Sam (Justin Long, who co-wrote the film with his brother Christian Long and co-star Keir O’Donnell) falls for her, he looks to her Facebook page as inspiration and makes all of her quirky interests his so that she will fall for him.When Birdie does fall for Sam, will he need to keep up the façade forever so that he remains interesting in her eyes? A Case of You rests on this game of Sam’s, which is somewhat of a flimsy premise. This and other problems aside, Long and Wood are delightful to watch and have great chemistry, and on the whole, the film is, despite my better judgement, quite enjoyable.
Sam writes book adaptations of popular films – even around his publishing house, he is considered a “hack writer,” since his work takes virtually no creativity, though head honcho Alan (Vince Vaughan, playing a fast-talking version of himself from Made or Swingers) believes in him and is interested in reading an original work that he’s poised to start. Gazing at Birdie making cappuccinos while on his laptop at the coffee shop is almost creative fuel for Sam, but when he learns that she was fired by her flamboyantly gay fellow barista Gerard (Peter Dinklage, in a bizarre performance) he finds her on Facebook, systematically runs into her at a bad improv night, emulates her likes and dislikes, and they eventually start dating and falling for each other. Sam’s roommate Eliot (O’Donnell) and his girlfriend Ashley (Busy Phillips) try to dissuade Sam from his somewhat creepy plan to get into Birdie’s good graces, but Sam won’t be thrown off his path.
Hinging an entire film on the slight problem of “will Birdie discover that Sam is a fraud?” is somewhat too simplistic of a plot to drive an entire film, and A Case of You attempts to battle that by cycling through repeated situations. There are perhaps too many sequences of Sam Facebook-stalking Birdie, followed by a humorous sequence of him failing at something he claimed to have liked, such as rock climbing or playing guitar. Considering that most people probably don’t like dating themselves, Sam’s central mission in the film seems even further ill-founded.
Something worth mentioning: Birdie makes the dumbest Facebook postings in history. No person over the age of twelve would ever post something like (and I am paraphrasing), “Guitar players are so cool!” or “I love Judo!!!” Also, where were her privacy settings, brothers Long? At least make her Facebook profile real-seeming, espeically if it is going to be the basis of a movie.
Another glaring error made in the film is the awkward insertion of “celebrity cameos.” These are jarring and distracting from the rest of the film, as these actors frequently poke through the fourth wall to their celebrity personae with their characterizations. Beyond Vaughan and Dinklage, there are also appearances from Sam Rockwell as Sam’s guitar teacher, Sienna Miller as Sam’s now-pregnant ex, and Brendan Fraser as Birdie’s musician ex-boyfriend. Dinklage’s portrayal of the flamboyant barista does get laughs, but perhaps more so because you’re so uncomfortable watching him, you don’t know what else to do. He even suggestively steams milk for a latte. Rockwell’s performance is also pretty distracting, since his character’s manic persona drowns out everything else in his scenes. The Fraser cameo is the most bizarre, since he’s supposed to have dated Birdie. And is a a musician. Also, we haven’t seen Fraser in a while, so when he comes on screen, the reaction is more like, “Wait – what?”
Other than these cameos, however, the film does succeed with casting. Long and Wood are very likable, talented young actors, and watching them together saves the film. Yes, Wood is playing a MPD, but my goodness, her character is so well-read and so talented! Who wouldn’t fall for her, really? She even saves the awkward scene in which Fraser’s character calls her up on stage during his set and she dazzles with a haunting vocal performance. Since he co-wrote, Long obviously knows the material and interprets it in the best way possible, making it seem less silly than it really is. The pair really do have great chemistry, which is rare between actors – despite the flimsy plot, you can’t help rooting for them to fall in love and make things work. O’Donnell and Phillips are also winning in their “best friend” roles, though as anyone who ever watched Freaks and Geeks knows, Phillips is never not a delight.
Despite the fact that A Case of You has a MPD archetype and a flimsy plot, it is still highly watchable. Coiro’s direction is not exactly notable – this film is fairly generic-looking – but this one is a film that would feel good paired with a bowl of ice cream on a Friday night when you have no other plans. It goes down easy. It’s hardly festival-worthy, but it’s two leads carry it further than where it would have been otherwise.
The Upside: Charming leads in Evan Rachel Wood and Justin Long, and some funny moments in the script.
The Downside: A script that too frequently veers into the silly, and really distracting actor cameos. Brendan Fraser as Birdie’s ex? Seriously?
On the Side: Evan Rachel Wood is a hardcore karaoke enthusiast and has a YouTube Channel – KaraokeNinja33 – where she features videos of her dropping some favorite karaoke jams. Here she is performing Justin Bieber’s “U Smile”: