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`Novel Romance' in need of a rewrite

A pair of unlikable characters thrown into a dubious premise equals a forgettable rom-com.

June 29, 2007|Gary Goldstein | Special to The Times

Talk about ill-conceived.

"Novel Romance," a would-be romantic comedy about single motherhood, could have been a perceptive look at a career woman's ticking clock and her last-ditch effort to silence it. Sadly, it's a coarse and implausible dud.

What's worse, the film was directed and co-written by a woman (Emily Skopov) who, by virtue of her gender alone, should have been able to concoct a more sympathetic and multidimensional heroine than the angry, manipulative Max Normane (Traci Lords). Frankly, if this romance-challenged chick sprang from the laptop of a guy, it wouldn't be unfair to carp, "See, men just can't write women." From the get-go, though, Max, the brusque editor of a tony L.A. literary magazine, keeps the audience -- and everyone around her -- at such arms' length it's impossible to invest in her journey.

The same could be said for Jake Buckley (Paul Johansson), a scotch-swilling narcissist Max rashly enlists to donate his sperm so she can finally have a child. Jake (presumably where Skopov's co-scripter Eddie Richie came in; if not, she doesn't write men well either) is a struggling and, we're told, talented writer whose father-son story Max is considering for her magazine. She wants major edits, he wants it published as is, so Max makes Jake a Faustian deal: She'll give life to his "baby" if he gives life to hers. Oh, and Jake must stay out of the picture after he fulfills his "paper cup" duties.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday June 30, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 29 words Type of Material: Correction
'Novel Romance': A review of the movie "Novel Romance" in Friday's Calendar section credited Eddie Richie as a co-writer. Director Emily Skopov is the sole screenwriter on the film.

There have been worse setups for movies, but, unfortunately, Max has baby Emma less than halfway through, and the rest, which takes place over four long years and includes Jake's unconvincing ascent to bestsellerdom, is convoluted and dull.

Lords does what she can with her abrasive role, but Johansson, a handsome bear of a guy, is underwhelming.

Sherilyn Fenn is more effective as Max's bitter, barren sister, who -- get out the sledgehammer -- runs a baby store. Mariette Hartley is another bright spot as Jake's forthright mentor. On the tech side, the low-budget film is decently shot and makes vivid use of its Venice locales.

Usually in rom-coms, it's not whether the mismatched lovers will get together but how. Here, it's more a case of why should they -- and do we even want them to (that would be no). The egocentric Max and Jake may actually deserve each other, but even they merit a better vehicle in which to joust than this one.

"Novel Romance." MPAA rating: R for sexual content and language. Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes. Exclusively at Laemmle's Monica 4-Plex, 1332 2nd St., Santa Monica, (310) 394-9741.

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