Overview: Lucy Sherrington finds herself in a pickle when a hole opens up in her living room floor, swallowing the married man to whom she had just declared her love. Orion Pictures; 2016; Rated R; 89 minutes.
An Education In Love: If you want a romantic comedy but are tired of the vapid, predictable films that populate the genre, you might enjoy this quirky creation from the mind of writer Steve Adams. Alison Brie (of Community and Mad Men) plays Lucy, an art teacher and small town sweetheart who is so bombarded by declarations of love from the men in her town that she isn’t sure what love is. When she finds herself on the verge of an affair with gym coach Clint Coburn (Colin Hanks), she decides that maybe this is love. When she says, “I love you,” however, a hole opens up beneath Clint, swallowing him into a void where he is weightless and unreachable, and Lucy is faced with being honest to herself and the entire town. The town must learn that she is not theirs to own, and she must learn to let others see her imperfections—reputation be damned.
An Indie Film That Delivers: When I read the description of No Stranger Than Love, my expectations were not high. I thought, “Well, at least this will be different.” I had small hope that the talent of Alison Brie and Colin Hanks would rescue what seemed to be a bizarre screenplay. The script by Steve Adams, however, ended up being as good as the actors, and that is a compliment to both. Under Nick Wernham’s direction, the film uncovers nothing ground-breaking, perhaps – only that our expectations of what love is and who we are can prevent us from appreciating the love in front of us and living our life fully—but the movie does it in a way that is weird and charming without resorting to a cloying happily-ever-after.
Instead, while Clint is trapped in the hole, Lucy meets his bookie (Justin Chatwin), who shares his unhappiness with his life and in so doing helps Lucy understand her own. The town comes to understand that “their” Lucy wasn’t “theirs” all along, but is her own person, and Clint realizes that his wife is irreplaceable.
Not Just Annie Adderall: Throughout No Stranger Than Love, Alison Brie plays her slightly uptight, seemingly perfect (but actually flawed) character well. She could have simply reverted to playing Annie or Trudie, but despite the similarity between those characters and the character of Lucy, Brie puts something unique into this role and makes the most of being typecast.
Acting In A Void: Colin Hanks does a creditable job, especially faced with the challenge of almost exclusively voice acting (he spends the majority of the movie in the hole). Unlike most voice acting roles, this one has no animation to support the emotion in the actor’s lines, so everything must come across in Hanks’ voice alone. At times, this can make his lines seem less genuine, but overall he delivers them convincingly.
Who’s This Guy?: The relative unknown in No Stranger Than Love is Justin Chatwin, who plays Rydell Whyte, Clint’s bookie/mysterious stranger who serves to move the conflict forward by appearing at inopportune times to make Lucy question herself. He plays the role with the right level of strangeness to underscore the idiosyncratic feel of this movie. The three actors are supported by a cast of average characters, whose absurdity makes us alternately chuckle and cringe as they compete to be the one who loves Lucy the most (regardless of how she feels in return).
Don’t Call It A Rom-Com: If there’s a flaw in No Stranger Than Love, it’s perhaps that it was not ambitious enough. Not a great deal happens in 89 minutes, and there is no emotional punch to it—throughout, this is a quiet and gentle film, with the exception of the apparent climax when Brenda, Clint’s wife, and Lucy discuss the nature of love in front of a crowd at the town fair (with Clint participating via remote audio link). No Stranger Than Love also defies genre—which could make it hard to appreciate. It’s not exactly a romantic comedy, since one specific romance is not the central conflict. It’s not exactly sci-fi, since the hole (while real to the characters) is more metaphor than anything else. It could be called comedy, but most people won’t see it that way, since it doesn’t include clear, laugh-out-loud moments.
Overall: No Stranger Than Love is a pleasant surprise out of the world of indie-filmmaking and does credit to its subject and its cast.
Featured Image: Orion Pictures