Paco Cabezas’s Mr. Right fuses two predominant romantic-comedy fantasies, one of which caters to women, the other flattering men. On one hand, the film is a fantasy of Prince Charming swooping in to save the day and actualize the female lead. On the other, it’s a story of a chick who unconditionally accepts a screwed-up dude’s morally challenging eccentricities. The film reveals these two rom-com modes to be essentially the same, as both revel in the idea of someone instantly understanding us—a common daydream, which somehow glorifies and reduces us simultaneously.
Martha (Anna Kendrick) is stuck in a rut after recently catching her boyfriend cheating on her (amusingly, he attempts to spin the conflict into a three-way). She appears to be one of those young women who are, perhaps, too eager to please men, as we initially meet Martha in the midst of a frenzied montage in which she attempts to look her sexiest while making a disastrous dinner. She could have a drinking problem, though that may be the relationship rebound talking, and it’s difficult to tell if she has a job or not, though she appears to be able to hide in her bedroom closet with booze for two days without causing any significant disruptions in her life (unless her bender occurred on a weekend). The real takeaway from Mr. Right’s opening minutes, though, is that Martha is a fusion of an arrested-development case and free spirit, waiting in the wings to be discovered by a man who “gets” her.
Martha’s “Mr. Right” is Francis (Sam Rockwell), because he’s weird in a way that flatters her sense of herself as a lovable odd duck. They both wear loud clothes and are prone to uttering occasionally quite funny non sequiturs. Both, and this is key, are also essentially antisocial, though they package it in a misleading air of confident quasi-extroversion. Francis is also a contract killer, who, for deliberately absurd reasons, has had a crisis of conscience that involves him knocking off the people who hire him for a job, rather than the intended victims of the negotiations. Francis has taken to wearing a clown nose during killings, offering a goofy contrast from his super-human invincibility, which comes straight out of a lurid action film.
Francis’s profession is obviously a metaphor for the shames we each carry, which have to be transcended to trust someone else enough to let them into our lives. Francis is an assassin, while Martha’s a jilted girlfriend, and the ghoulish false equivalency that’s drawn between these two facts hints at a satirical dimension that Cabezas and screenwriter Max Landis don’t fully explore. Mr. Right is thin because it coasts on obvious contrasts and reversals, particularly Martha’s ease with Francis’s underworld warfare.
Yet the film has a bouncy sense of lunacy, wearing its derivative junkiness on its sleeve with surprising lightness of authority. And a few jokes truly deliver, such as Francis and Martha meeting in a convenience store, in a sequence that’s shot in slow motion as condoms rain from the ceiling. The scene scans as a parody of the sexual urge that’s often suppressed in Prince Charming fantasies, which are generally and hypocritically chaste, but it’s also suggestively WTF arbitrary. Slow motion is also used in several of the action scenes, usually to highlight the ludicrousness of tropes that we accept as givens in many thrillers. The filmmakers lump the clichés that we associate with rom coms and action films together in a spray of tangy nihilism that hits its targets like buckshot: broadly and inconsistently, but sometimes effectively.