Katie Holmes’s trademark smirk may make only one appearance in The Romantics, but writer-director Galt Niederhoffer’s turgid faux indie compensates by eliciting plenty of sneers via its pretentious and phony romantic drama. Preventing her mouth from perpetually twisting sideways, Holmes plays Laura, a published author with the unenviable task of being maid of honor at wealthy friend Lila’s (Anna Paquin) waterside yacht club wedding to Laura’s former longtime boyfriend, Tom (Josh Duhamel). Laura is accompanied at these festivities by a group of friends, including two couples (Malin Åkerman and Jeremy Strong, Rebecca Lawrence and Adam Brody), who in college were together known as the Romantics because, as Laura’s rehearsal dinner speech elucidates, they loved to incestuously date and screw each other. As if that nickname weren’t groan-worthy enough, Niederhoffer (working from her own novel) uses Laura’s profession as an excuse to have her protagonist spout literary references and affected writerly dialogue (including a bit in which Laura describes her and Tom’s former bliss as reaching heights so great “they explain the evolutionary purpose of speaking”), further underlining the fact that the character, like the narrative scenario as a whole, is blatantly counterfeit.
Laura and company’s jovial façades mask deep unhappiness, which eventually leads to lots of midnight pontificating and subsequent covert infidelity. And all the while, Niederhoffer employs warm-hued shaky cinematography to vainly approximate a sense of intimacy with these people, who register only as pawns in a loaded fictional tale of love triumphing over all. The Romantics‘s focus on Laura and her friends’ emotional plights suggests actual engagement with the titular crew. Yet as with the soundtrack’s on-the-nose ballads, the script maintains superficiality at all times, to the point that after establishing the shakiness of its two married couples’ unions, as well as the tense relationship between Lila and her sister, the film then drops those threads, refusing to resolve them out of sheer disinterest. With next-to-no suspense generated from the question of whether Tom will ditch Lila (who twice admits a disgust for “emotions”) for Laura (with whom he’s clearly still in love), the burden of carrying the proceedings falls on the cast, who feign genuine sentiments but prove incapable of overcoming a contrived plot populated by characters who are not just unbelievable but downright obnoxious and shrill. Or, as Tom himself accurately sums them—and, by extension, the film—up, “We are all so uninspired.”