The warning signs are there even before the opening credits roll. Lessons in Love (2014) – the UK title of Tom Vaughan’s latest – went through two prior iterations for its appearance in Canadian (How To Make Love Like An Englishman) and US (Some Kind of Beautiful) cinemas. Unfortunately, much like giving someone the same present for Christmas, Easter and their birthday, no matter how this rom-com is gift wrapped the resultant 99 minutes of your life will feel as hollow and wasted as receiving an empty box.
Channelling the ghost of 007’s past, Pierce Brosnan plays suave, sophisticated and purposely unscrupulous silver fox Richard Haig, a Cambridge English lit professor teaching the Romantics to goggle- eyed female students, one of whom (Jessica Alba) he is of course sleeping with – narrative cliché number one. Awaiting the arrival of his beloved for a special dinner, good old Richard begins to chat up a dark-haired beauty at the bar (Salma Hayek) who, it transpires, is Alba’s Hispanic elder half-sister.
Younger sister Kate announces she is pregnant, Richard vomits. The tone of rampant and undisguised chauvinism is set. The happily unplanned family decamps from rainy England to sun-soaked Los Angeles where they naturally live in a breathtaking villa overlooking the Pacific despite Richard slumming it at a community college and Kate as a recent graduate. The American Dream at its unbelievable finest. Baby Jake arrives and is a toddler before you know it. The novelty of Pierce’s Englishness (or perhaps Irishness) wears off almost immediately and Kate shacks up with Brian (Ben McKenzie). Olivia (Hayek) arrives from New York after her husband is found bonking the couple’s gynaecologist. Olivia and Richard end up sleeping together but this time it actually means something and they fall in love. The stupidity reaches its peak with narrative clichés nineteen and twenty. That a film which is surely targeted at a female audience presents Richard as a sympathetic lothario fallen on hard times but really trying to be a good dad (even though he didn’t ever want to be) while at the same time showing Alba and Hayek parading around in lingerie/jumping naked into swimming pools proves just how far off base this whole torrid affair is.
How the great Malcolm McDowell was persuaded to fill in as Richard’s father beggars belief. His vitriolic rants, which are intended as comic relief and to show that his progeny is just a chip off the roguish old block, are unspeakably sexist, crass and handled with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Needless to say, Matthew Newman’s script and Vaughan’s direction of the material have no redeeming features whatsoever. Lord Byron – whose words are dropped repeatedly to add some literary legitimacy to proceedings – will be turning his grave at the affiliation of his name with a film that demonstrates less romance, poetry and genuine human connection than the phone book. “It’s irrational. It’s romantic.” says Olivia of her unorthodox union with Richard. It’s just plain awful, that’s what Lessons in Love is.
Matthew Anderson | @behind_theseens