IF THIS year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival got off to a forceful but divisive start with the uncompromising Hyena, it goes out on more of a whimper with the mirthless romantic comedy We’ll Never Have Paris.
We’ll Never Have Paris - Director: Simon Helberg
Written and directed by Simon Helberg (star of TV’s The Big Bang Theory) and his wife Jocelyn Towne, it’s a semi-autobiographical account of the couple’s own initially disastrous attempt to take their relationship to the next level, one that announces its intentions as a spiky antidote to the usual break-up/make-up machinations of the genre by adding the word “unfortunately” to the opening credit claim that it is indeed “based on a true story”.
Unfortunately that also turns out to be the wittiest line in the film as Helberg, casting himself as Quinn, the film’s nebbish, neurotic, romantically woeful hero, quickly crosses the line from being believably flawed to outright unappealing.
It’s certainly tough to root for him when he botches a marriage proposal to his long-term girlfriend Devon (Melanie Lynskey) after his blonde co-worker Kelsey (Maggie Grace) announces that she’s in love with him. Having never played the field, he’s suddenly freaked out at the thought of spending the rest of his life with the only woman he’s been with and manages to turn a discussion about their future together into a relationship-ending row.
The silver lining – from Quinn’s point of view at least – is that he’s now able to explore his suddenly awakened desire for Kelsey with a clear conscience. But when Kelsey turns out to be a bit of nightmare – clingy, schlubby and full of annoying bad habits that only become clear when the pre-coitus blinkers fall away – he realises his mistake and goes crawling back to Devon.
It’s here that the film really comes unstuck, with Quinn turning transatlantic stalker by following Devon to Paris where she’s relocated for a few months to get a bit of headspace. As he tries to rekindle a relationship that has already been further complicated by each of them embarking on new sexual encounters, Quinn’s incessant whining and wallowing descends into outright narcissism – a trait to which the film draws attention by having Devon make this very point.
Acknowledging a character flaw, however, isn’t the same as commenting on it, and too often the flat-lining jokes and botched attempts at emotional sincerity merely enhance the character’s pathological nature instead of offsetting it.
It’s a shame, because as Howard Wolowitz in The Big Bang Theory, Helberg is so good at making a character with socially awkward tendencies seem warm, witty and relatable. Here, though, his character just seems overtly creepy. It doesn’t help that Helberg plays Quinn as if he’s auditioning for a role in a Woody Allen movie. With the wry title also bringing to mind Allen’s own Casablanca-riffing Play it Again, Sam, it just makes what should have been a truthful relationship comedy seem strangely inauthentic.
• Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, 5:30pm and 8:25pm tomorrow