(Holy shit, I’m actually posting another review on here.)
Addicted To Love is a 1997 romantic comedy (though some would argue it’s more of a dark comedy, or—at the very least—that the comedy takes precedence over the romance in this particular instance; nevertheless, it was billed as a romantic comedy, so “romantic comedy” is what we’ll call it) starring Matthew Broderick and Meg Ryan. You can find the trailer on youtube, but the basic premise is this:
Small-town astronomer Sam (Broderick) is in love with schoolteacher Linda (Kelly Preston). Linda loves him back, but at the same time longs for a bit of adventure and excitement, so when she’s chosen to represent her school district in New York City for two months, she jumps at the chance. On the day she’s supposed to return, Sam is surprised not by Linda, but by Linda’s father, who has been tasked with delivering a Dear John letter to Sam. Unable to either understand or accept this unceremonious dumping (and unable to easily contact her, as this is 1997 and not everyone and their grandmother has a cell phone), Sam hops on the first plane he can find, hoping to work things out. Upon arriving in NYC and eventually tracking Linda down to an apartment, Sam rings the buzzer, only to hear another man (French restaurateur Anton, played by Tcheky Karyo) on the other side. Faced with the realization that the love of his life has not only well and truly left him, but also shacked up with someone else in the meantime, Sam does what any sensible person would: He squats in an abandoned building across the street and begins spying on them. This charming stalk-a-thon is soon interrupted (and then taken up to eleven) by biker-babe Maggie (Ryan), otherwise known as Anton’s ex-fiancé. While Sam wants Linda back, Maggie just wants Anton miserable, and after some initial hostilities, the two of them team up to break the happy couple apart. Inevitably, though, complications arise when Sam and Maggie find themselves falling in love with each other, instead.
Addicted To Love didn’t do very well at the box office upon its release, in part because a lot of people went in expecting a light, frothy rom-com (the kind that had become downright synonymous with Ryan’s name at this point in time) and instead found themselves faced with something distinctly weirder. (Not that Addicted To Love doesn’t have its light, frothy moments, because it most certainly does, but the character psychology is significantly more complex than what you typically find in a romantic comedy, and the morality at work is decidedly grey.) However, enough time has passed since its release, America at large is no longer enamored of Ryan (and thus no longer irrationally angry at her for having the audacity to want to play something other than an adorable everygirl), and those few who have gone back and looked at the film in recent years have generally been kinder to it than contemporary critics were.
I, myself, first saw it not too long after it initially hit the rental racks, at the tender age of twelve, and there was something about it that always stuck with me. Maybe it was that previously-mentioned character complexity (something I was probably old enough to recognize and appreciate, if only on a subconscious level). Maybe it was the fact that I’ve always had a thing for dark humor, even as a kid, so that aspect of the film appealed to me instead of repulsed me. Maybe it was the simple fact that Broderick and Ryan just look so darn cute together and have a lot of genuinely great chemistry. But there was something about the film that I liked, and that has kept me periodically coming back to it ever since.
Make no mistake; the film has its flaws. Much of its critical failure can be chalked up to the fact that—as touched on above—it seems to fall smack dab in the middle of two genres, being too dark for the average rom-com fan, yet too light to really qualify as a true black comedy. Sam and Maggie’s schemes are distinctly on the screwball side of things, and a lot of the humor tends toward slapstick, which can give the film a bizarre old-school-farce vibe at times. There’s also the fact that three of the four principle actors were in their mid-thirties at the time, and, when you stop to think about it, this is a story that would really make a lot more sense if these people were about ten years younger. (Like, I’m supposed to believe that 35-year-old Sam has been dating Linda since, like, high school, but still has yet to even propose, whaaa? Or that 35-year-old Linda has only just now worked up the nerve to leave him and start living her life the way she wants to, whaaa?)
But at the same time, there’s a lot about the film that really works, to the extent that I truly do feel the positives outweigh the negatives. For instance, one of the more inspired scenes sees Sam painting a wall across which an image of Linda is being projected (via camera obscura, not modern video equipment, it should be noted), and we watch as he follows her with the roller, desperately trying to keep her illuminated. The script (apparently written by the same guy who wrote Galaxy Quest,
whaaa?) is sharp and well-paced, with some genuinely memorable dialogue, such as when Maggie defines love with a gross-yet-heartfelt anecdote about a childhood dog. And on top of all that, there’s an emotional complexity to these characters that is rarely seen in the romantic comedy genre. The MPAA gave the film an R rating when it came out, and while it’s a markedly light R in the way we usually judge these things (containing little swearing, only mild violence, and sexuality that is more often heard or implied than actually seen outright), there nevertheless is something distinctly adult about the film. I enjoyed it at twelve, yes—but it wasn’t until I was in my twenties and had suffered a painful break-up of my own that the story and its characters really resonated with me.
Because as uncomfortable as it can be to watch (one of my favorite things about the film, no joke, is how easily you could turn it into a psychological thriller), and as mired in physical comedy as it often is, there’s something very real there, in Sam’s passive pining and Maggie’s aggressive bitterness, in their pain and obsession and loneliness. (And as this lovely, in-depth review/analysis points out, despite how the marketing tried to emphasize the revenge aspect, the film arguably is more about loneliness than anything else.) None of these people are particularly good. In a lot of ways, none of these people are even particularly likeable. But they are so unapologetically human in their feelings and motivations, and while it’s hard to excuse their behavior, it’s surprisingly easy to understand it.
Addicted To Love doesn’t quite have the feel-good escapism of, say, When Harry Met Sally… or While You Were Sleeping, but it does end happily, and if it sounds like the sort of thing you could be into (and if you don’t mind a scene involving cockroaches), do yourself a favor and check it out. (And then—if you haven’t already—do me a favor by checking out the article I linked to in the above paragraph, because it talks about a number of things I would have mentioned, myself, had that author not already addressed them so perfectly. Like the recurring motif of lenses throughout the film—dear god, the lenses!)
And as a way to close out this post, I’ll leave you with the following image, from a scene where Sam and Maggie get drunk, break into their exes’ place, and then proceed to dress up in their clothes: