A Case of You is a frustrating case of a great opportunity blown. In Kat Coiro’s film, Justin Long plays Sam, a Brooklyn-based writer of novelizations who desires to create something far more personal and meaningful; he also yearns to romantically connect with Birdie (Evan Rachel Wood), the eccentric barista at his local café. When she’s fired from her job, however, Sam looks her up on Facebook—and, befitting his hopelessly awkward nature, decides that, before approaching her in the flesh, he’ll shape himself into the man of her dreams by obsessively inspecting her profile and picking up on her likes and dislikes.
Sam’s scheme might sound ridiculous if we didn’t live in an age dominated by social media and the illusions they proffer when it comes to forging human connections. In this age where Facebook, Twitter, and the like encourage users to not only publicly share entirely too much of themselves, but to use the distance afforded by digital devices to put idealized versions of themselves out in the open, its sensible for the constantly wired to assume they can know another person simply through his or her online profile—and, as the New York Times reported a few months ago, this has changed the romantic-courtship game in ways both big and small.
The film’s best moments come when, step by step, Birdie punctures Sam’s assumptions of her based on his stalking. In one scene, Birdie reveals that, even though she loves Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, she would never consider going to the Galapagos Islands a dream vacation, saying that there’s an aura of mystery about the place that visiting it would destroy for her. And while she gradually becomes more appealing beyond what she reveals of herself online, Sam becomes even more of a hollowed-out blank, having gotten so wrapped up in trying to enjoy the same things Birdie does that it becomes apparent that he’s, to some extent, suppressing his own individuality. Though the script—which Long co-wrote with his brother Christian and Keir O’Donnell, who plays Sam’s roommate, Eliot—never explicitly articulates this, it’s strongly suggested that Sam has had something of a sheltered past, evidenced by his admissions to Birdie that he’s never traveled outside of the United States and that he was a Boy Scout and glee-club member during high school and college. No wonder a free-spirited personality like Birdie’s both intoxicates and intimidates him, to the point that he comes close to throwing it all away just because he neurotically assumes that, because they don’t have much in common as far as likes and dislikes go, they’re not meant for each other.
All of these are promising elements for an insightful comedy of manners for our digital age—possibly a modern variation on Albert Brooks’s great 1981 anti-romantic comedy Modern Romance. The most unfortunate thing about Coiro’s film is that there are moments which come close to matching Brooks’s film in its human insights and bracing willingness to risk audience discomfort in order to make its points. (Sam’s “accidental” run-in with Birdie at the Upright Citizens Brigade comedy club, after having seen on her Facebook page that she was going, is a particularly successful example of the kind of squirm-inducing comedy that Brooks and spiritual successors such as Larry David often pull off so well.) Mostly, though, A Case of You prefers to soften its edges at every corner, painting Birdie as a too-good-to-be-true dream girl, barely acknowledging the creepier aspects of Sam’s online stalking, and, most egregiously, resolving all of the film’s thornier issues and emotions with an excessively tidy happy ending. This frustratingly messy comedy betrays its glimmers of initial promise on its disappointing path to utter conventionality.
The Tribeca Film Festival runs from April 17—27. For more information click here.