(it) wrote: Romantic comedies need two things to live: good casting and a good gimmick. (Martha, Meet Frank, Daniel and Laurence could also do with a good title. It was released in America as The Very Thought Of You, which substitutes appalling clumsiness for instant forgettability. Honestly, I don't know which is better. How about we use my pet cliche, and just call it Romantic Comedy, followed by a reference number?) This film has neither. Monica Potter is stuck with the role of Token American Female, also known as Martha, embracing the quaint cliche that all Englishmen are besotted by all American women, pretty much just because they're not from round here. Martha isn't much more exciting than that, and Potter delivers her lines in a monotone. I have no idea what made three separate men so interested in her, but then, I've already answered that one: she's American. Wow! Speaking of the men, they're hit and miss. Rufus Sewell gets to do the tortured actor bit - think Withnail, sober - and he's relatively interesting. Diminutive Tom Hollander (and he is, distractingly so, poor fellow) plays a rich music executive who bumps into Martha on a flight back to England, and starts the whole process of love triangles and misunderstandings. Finally, Joseph Fiennes is the one she's obviously going to get together with - as in, the only one she likes back - and he is dull, dull, dull. Forget Rufus Sewell: he's actually living the tortured actor bit, forever throwing deep poetic glances and feeling love pangs while his squabbling buddies go on about shagging, the ingrates. Martha and Laurence (Fiennes) are so tedious, they deserve each other. As for the gimmick, there are two of those, I think. Firstly Laurence is explaining his love triangle (love square?) predicament to his next-door neighbour (Ray Winstone), recounting it all in flashback, meaning we start just a little while before the end. (This usually means that a story doesn't have a strong enough opening. I'd say that's the case here.) Secondly the events themselves occur slightly out of sequence, often being repeated with new meanings. (A clever device, or just a ploy to make you watch it a second time?) Neither gimmick is strong enough to recommend the film on, just as neither encompasses the entire movie. As for the plot, which is always just so much windowdressing in romantic comedies, Martha meets Daniel, Laurence and Frank, falls instantly for Laurence, but also attracts Daniel and Frank. (Except their hearts aren't really in it, and we don't believe it. Daniel probably gets into situations like this every week, and is just going through the routine. Frank's just excited because Martha's probably the first woman he's spoken to in months, although his initial excitement is just in finding Daniel's bird and potentially offending his friend.) She meets up with Laurence again easily enough and they go on a date, but he finds out about the competition and nobly gives in. Then he goes back to her. Then wonders if he should give in again, at which point he has his chat with Ray Winstone. That's not much conflict. It would be if Martha actually liked either Frank or Daniel; there'd be a reason for Laurence to give up the pursuit. Instead the two romantic leads meet, fall in love and elope pretty much without incident. Martha's vaguely infatuated other suitors fall by the wayside. There's no struggle, only cliches to move us between plot points. For instance, we get that obligatory scene where Martha finds out (or thinks she does) that the three men are playing some kind of cruel game on her, because that's the genre were in; even the fact that this is not the case doesn't stop that little leftover from creeping into the script. It's mandatory, just like the pop soundtrack. At least we're spared one character running after the other at the end. (It's more of a stroll.) What can be said about the script, other than it tries to be complex, but is simply a bit muddled? It's not very funny. Rufus Sewell says "f**k" a lot, because everybody loved Four Weddings & A Funeral, and Tom Hollander is mildly acerbic as the luckless Daniel. He's the most sympathetic of the three. But Joseph Fiennes is relentlessly humourless, and hardly even romantic: on finding Martha in an art gallery, after following her for an hour or so, he seems merely annoyed by the sight of her. Sparks do not fly. The only diverting thing about it is the London setting, which is so firmly rooted in the '90s that it has dated awkwardly. (I can't believe it was made in 1998. Look at those clothes, those haircuts!) A friend of mine raised a very good point while watching this: Romantic comedies are not the same as comedies. Rather, just having a romantic situation play out with mildly incredulous results is not the same as something that's funny. Martha, Meet Frank, Daniel and Laurence is a textbook example. There are no jokes. There are very few laughs. The two leads are so boringly interested in fate, serendipity and other Hollywood blah that you think of them as mismatched, each clumsily poetic lover clearly meant to meet someone refreshingly different, not the same. And give or take accents, Martha and Laurence are the same. Honestly, who cares? It's vapid, dull, and not worth braving your way past the awful title, which would have prevented me from watching it in the first place, had it not been someone else's decision. The sole highlight is Ray Winstone, playing against type as Laurence's likeable neighbour. Other than that, get the first flight out of here.