Dorfman in Love is kind of an unusual flick. It had the kind of buzz you saw for (500) Days of Summer, a quirky rom-com making the indie circuit. Then when it came out, the critics excoriated it even though audiences were more receptive. It has the kind of Rotten Tomatoes split you expect from a Christian flick (15/64) although that may be at least partly because very, very few people have seen it indeed. (Fewer reviews tend to result in more severe scores.)
The basic plot is simple enough, Deb Dorfman (Sara Rue, remember her?) lives a life where she takes care of her cranky, recently widowed father (Elliot Gould), is taken advantage of by her “perfect” brother (Jonathan Chase), treated as a charity case by her sister-in-law (Keri Lynn Pratt), and used by the ridiculously handsome and perfect Johann Urb, whom she’s been nursing a decade long crush on.
Her scheme, in this film, is to volunteer to take care of his cat while he’s off investigating things in Kabul, and while she’s in his loft, to unpack and decorate for him. Thus winning his love.
The wrinkle is that he has a sexy, womanizing next-door neighbor (Haaz Sleiman, The Visitor) who takes a shine to her, though as a friend, but we all know where this must ultimately lead.
Now, here’s the thing. We have a lively script by TV veteran Wendy Kout (“Mork and Mindy” and, one of my favorites, “Anything But Love”). There’s laffs-a-plenty to go along with the mostly competent direction by newcomer Brad Leong (though there are some rough spots as far as comedic timing goes). We have Sara Rue, who is mostly pretty appealing, though her character sometimes misses the mark between “appealingly rough around the edges” and “suddenly weirdly abrasive”. We’ve got Elliot Gould, who these days can carry a movie just being a crotchety old Jewish dude.
So, we liked it well enough. But there was something nagging at me, the further the movie went along.
There were little things, of course. Like, Deb lives in the Valley, but it’s only through moving into this downtown loft that the world opens up for her. Deb is “Hollywood chubby”, which is to say, not really chubby at all, and looks great when she’s shoehorned into a flattering dress. Actually, her makeover reminded me of her character in Idiocracy: “Brawndo has…what plants crave!”
They didn’t do a makeover montage, thank God, but—but…this isn’t really an indie rom-com at all. Deb reads romance novels, and about 30 minutes into it (I’m slow) I realized this is a romance novel. I haven’t read a romance novel since the ‘80s (when I was reading them in anticipation of writing them) but the whole plotline of the kinda frumpy (again, I know), kinda twitchy, kinda shy, unblossomed, unappreciated, etc., etc., woman with two hot, alpha male love interests?
Is this just basically some old school pandering?
Looking at some critical reviews, they mostly talk about it being “standard”, “formulaic”, “old ground” but that’s not really it. The romantic-comedy is one of the most well-defined genres, so much so that movies that don’t do certain things predictably can’t really be called rom-coms (cf. the aforementioned 500 Days or Kevin Smith’s Chasing Amy).
Not all the jokes work, and the timing (as mentioned) is off on occasion, but the thing I keep coming back to is: Would I be insulted if I were in the target demographic? Or would I just think it was a fluffy good time?
I truly do not know. And it matters, if you’re in that demo, because it’s the difference between a feel-good trifle and potentially murderous rage. But so far I haven’t been able to convince any women to see it.
My recommendation, therefore, is highly conditional: You have to like the formula and you have to promise not to kill me if it pisses you off.