Review by Dustin Putman
2½ stars out of 4
It is common knowledge that the month of January is a dumping ground
for motion pictures that studios have little faith in; they are usually
not serious or good enough to be end-of-the-year releases, and not
big enough in scale to battle it out in the summer. "Win a Date with
Tad Hamilton!," the equivalent of 2003's January romantic comedy "Just
Married," only much better, proves to be an exception to this rule.
Directed by Robert Luketic (2001's "Legally Blonde"), the film is
a lightweight concoction, predictable from frame one, but its energetic
performances, sweet-natured tone, and surprisingly savvy Hollywood-aimed
humor carry it painlessly through to the end.
Rosalee Futch (Kate Bosworth) is a 22-year-old supermarket cashier
who spends her days hanging out with best friend coworkers Pete (Topher
Grace) and Cathy (Ginnifer Goodwin) in their small West Virginia hometown.
When she enters a contest to win a date with popular Hollywood actor
Tad Hamilton (Josh Duhamel), Rosalee realizes her chances are slim
to none. But when she wins, and is suddenl y whisked away to Los Angeles
to meet her idol, Rosalee's world is turned upside down. Tad, a bad
boy looking to find redemption and reclaim his humanity, sees Rosalee
as just the person to help him out. Suddenly, Tad has bought a farm
in West Virginia and wants very much to be a part of her life. Unbeknownst
to Rosalee, her true love has been in front of her the whole time,
but Pete has never had the guts to tell her how he feels.
Because the outcome is so easily foreseeable, much like most screen
romances, what is important is not where the story ends up, but how
it gets there. In the case of "Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!," the
bright cast charismatically work off of each other, making the viewer's
time spent with them zippy and always likable. They are aided by a
snappy screenplay by Victor Levin, which generates satisfying laughs,
a number of quotable lines of dialogue, and only a rare instance or
two of sappy romantic hokum. A key discussion about a person's number
of different smiles, for example, is well-intentioned but admittedly
a bit of an eye-roller. Fortunately, it is evened out by some genuinely
romantic moments, including a final shot that is ingenious in its conception.
Where the film most notably breaks out of the generic is in its playful
satire of both real Hollywood life and a small town's sometimes skewed
ideas of what a Hollywood life entails. When Rosalee's caring father
(Gary Cole) yearns to win over Tad Hamilton by spouting off the current
news stories he's read from "Variety," it is very funny. And when,
later, her dad is seen simply wearing a "Project Greenlight" t-shirt,
the ongoing joke becomes even more clever and smart because it doesn't
feel the need to call attention to itself. Dir ector Robert Luketic
trusts his audience to understand the comedy in such situations as
these, rather than feeling the need to spoon-feed them down their throats.
Following her work in 2002's "Blue Crush" and 2003's "Wonderland,"
Kate Bosworth has become a promising young actress to watch. She is
adorable as leading lady Rosalee, which is about all that is really
called of her to be, but then goes one step further to really create
an intelligent three-dimensional person. As the secretly lovestruck
Pete, everything that needs to be said about the character is told
through the look in Topher Grace's (2003's "Mona Lisa Smile") eyes.
His role is seemingly undemanding, but Grace makes us believe that
he is really in love with Rosalee . And feature film newcomer Josh
Duhamel (TV's "Las Vegas") is exceedingly plausible as Hollywood star
Tad Hamilton. Kudos to screenwriter Levin for avoiding the often cliched
temptation of turning Tad into a snobbish baddie, and creating a real
arc for him. In order to win over Rosalee, Tad must tell a lie, but
he finally recognizes his mistake and learns from it.
The supporting players are a varied, scene-stealing bunch. Ginnifer
Goodwin (2003's "Mona Lisa Smile") is utterly delightful as Rosalee's
peppy best friend, Cathy, bringing both warmth and comic gold to her
every moment. Kathryn Hahn (2003's "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days")
also stands out in only a few scenes as Angelica, a wistful bartender
who harbors a not-so-secret crush on Pete. And Sean Hayes (2003's
"Pieces of April") is quirkily enjoyable as Tad's manager, deserving
credit for once again playing someone who is nothing at all like his
famed persona as Jack McFarland on TV's "Will & Grace."
As the first release of 2004, I could think of much worse ways to
start the year than "Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!" (such as 2003's
uneven "Just Married," 2002's "Impostor," 2001's "Sugar & Spice,"
and 2000's reprehensible "Next Friday"). Kate Bosworth and Topher
Gr ace ignite light, but palpable sparks as the romantic leads, and
the movie that surrounds them is well-paced and never less than entertaining.
"Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!" won't be shaking the world anytime
soon, but it has enough freshness and charm to stand out in the midst
of the January humdrums.
Copyright © 2004 Dustin Putman