Full disclosure: I hate romantic comedies. There are exceptions to this rule, of course, but the rigid structure of the genre drives me batty. Boy meets girl, or vice versa. Contrived complications ensue. Subplots involving best friends chew up screen time, masking the absence of legitimate narrative tension. And then, after the usual interrupted wedding or mad rush across town (rainstorm optional), boy apologizes for past misdeeds and declares undying love for girl, or vice versa. Yawn. One can argue that action movies and horror flicks and thrillers are just as predictable, but at least exciting things happen in those genres. Too often, rom-coms are mealy-mouthed nonentities on the order of Something Short of Paradise.
An inoffensive picture manufactured by skilled people, it’s not a total dud, and leading lady Susan Sarandon makes a few scenes watchable thanks to her unique combination of beauty, charm, intelligence, and strength. But, man, is the storyline mundane. Furthermore, rom-coms only work if both the boy and he girl are interesting to watch. With all due respect to his impressive career in stand-up comedy and TV directing, leading man David Steinberg is no match for Sarandon. Whereas she comes across as believable and complicated, he comes across as forgettable and whiny. If you care whether his character gets together with Sarandon’s, then you have a higher degree of tolerance for this type of crap than I do. Steinberg plays Harris, the manager of a New York City arthouse cinema. Sarandon plays Madeline, a wannabe novelist slumming as a reporter. Introduced by friends, they date briefly and then separate because Madeline is afraid of commitment. Later, they reconnect when Harris’ theater hosts a retrospective for a French actor (played by Jean-Pierre Aumont) whom Madeline is assigned to interview.
Per the genre formula, the picture also includes tepid subplots about the main characters’ best friends (played by Joe Grifasi and Marilyn Sokol), as well as the protagonists’ futile attempts at dating other people. The dialogue is jokey but not actually funny, the situations are lightweight without achieving effervescence, and Steinberg’s bland screen persona dampens Sarandon’s powerful sex appeal. In the end, it’s all just mush, a lot of talky scenes in search of a unique narrative hook. As the risk of using a phrase as trite as this movie, Something Short of Paradise is for Sarandon fans only.
Something Short of Paradise: FUNKY