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Monday, September 26, 2016
I've never read anything by Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky of "Crime and Punishment" fame, but I'm willing to bet that his novella "White Nights" was in a somewhat more serious vein than STRANGELY IN LOVE (2014), the wacked-out romantic comedy that has been based upon it. Because even for a rom-com, this is one seriously nutty little flick.
I didn't like it at first because I thought it was intended to be a standard cutsey-pie relationship weeper with "quirky" characters doing "offbeat" things. It only gradually dawned on me that the movie wanted me to think this at first so that it could all the more effectively put me on with how wickedly satirical and off-the-wall it turned out to be. And make no mistake, this movie is a total, and one might even say exquisite, put on from start to finish.
It starts out with a wimpy but calculatedly lovable little loser named Fyo (Jemuel Morris) who sweeps up in a printing factory and vainly tries, in a small-voiced, passive little way, to make friends with the people around him, to whom he may as well be invisible.
Fyo's one of those socially awkward movie nobodies you'd consider off-puttingly weird in real life although here, since he's cutely childlike, doesn't smell bad, means well, and is in a movie, we're meant to find him endearing.
When Fyo ends up saving the life of an attractive but wildly eccentric blind woman named Nastenka (Michelle Lang) by interrupting her attempt to hang herself from a tree in the park, he's drawn into her strange tale of lost love for a man named Steve who went to Africa as a missionary and never returned on her birthday as promised. (He's over six months overdue.)
The situation practically screams CITY LIGHTS with Chaplin's "Little Tramp" involved with a pretty blind girl who "sees" beyond the homely misfit's exterior to recognize his inner wonderfulness. In one shot there's even a direct reference to the Little Tramp, and later Quasimodo is invoked as well.
Naturally, Fyo falls madly in love with Nastenka and must try to win her in his awkward way while competing with her overwhelming grief over the missing Steve. And when I say "awkward", you can imagine the sort of sappy courtship montages and sickly-sweet romance tropes that the usual chick flick would heap on with a trowel, which STRANGELY IN LOVE is only too happy to do. Except that here, it's all done with a soft-peddled but knowingly sly "wink-wink, nudge-nudge" attitude that deftly hovers between outright satire and an almost sincere pathos.
In fact, the deeper we get into Fyo and Nastenka's up-and-down love story, which is inevitably thrown into utter turmoil by the return of none other than Steve himself, the more we actually start to respond to them in real emotional terms that go beyond simple kooky comedy. In this way, STRANGELY IN LOVE seamlessly goes from wickedly spoofing sensitive, emotional love stories to actually being one without losing any of its delicately-rendered weirdness.
The leads are ideal for their roles--at least, that's what I thought after it dawned on me what they and director/co-writer Amin Matalqa were going for here. Sean Carrigan also scores as Steve, and, in a wonderful cameo, Amanda Plummer (PULP FICTION, FREEWAY) is ideal as Sister Sarah, a nun who's been keeping up with Steve's whereabouts in Africa and tends to get somewhat crazed when the subject comes up.
STRANGELY IN LOVE oozes with meet-cutes, melodrama, neck-wrenching plot twists, and enough willfully sappy lovey-dovey stuff to make Erich Segal look like Mickey Spillane. And, strangely enough, that's exactly why I liked it. It takes all those ingredients, throws them into a blender, and whips them into a yummy comedy smoothie.
Buy it at Amazon.com
TRT: 89 minutes
Format: 1:78 FF
Sound: Dolby SR
Genre: Comedy, Romance