Writer: Nathan Neuman and Samuel Jordan Dudeck
Director: Nathan Neuman
The first rule of dating is always be yourself, although everyone knows that is the last thing you should do especially in the social media age where everyone is primped, filtered and staged. Nathan Neuman and Samuel Jordan Dudeck’s movie #valentinesday filmed during the November lockdown will make you relive those painful first date experiences as it charts the process of dating from dissecting every message to the pitfalls of meeting in person.
Scriptwriter and promising student Val (Finlay Macmillan) wants a girlfriend but doesn’t make a good first impression so his much cooler college roommate John (Francis Lovehall) helps him to set up an online dating profile and pushes Val out of his comfort zone in an effort to get him into bed with someone. When Val meets Drew (Tessa Bonham Jones), a long-distance romance develops conducted on video calling platforms, but what will happen when they meet in person?
Inspired by Sex Education and American Pie, #valentinesday offers a very male perspective, using gross-out humour about masturbation and frat boy dialogue that derogatorily refers to women as “bitches”, all taking place against a backdrop of caricatured sex-starved girls circulating anonymously and male-only pleasure. John in particular is obsessed with all kinds of sex acts and much time in the first hour is given over to his crude philosophy as he gives Val advice on how to get laid, critiques his attempts and takes his friend through several montage sequences of training, taking profile pictures and interrupting cybersex sessions.
Running against this strand is an obsession with classic movie romances and film noir sirens like Veronica Lake. The relationship between Drew and Val is sweet, peppered with references to these movies as the romantic Val looks for true love. Ahead of their first kiss, Drew quotes Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca and there are some charming fantasy sequences drawing on 1940s movies while Neuman’s music looks to Big Band, doo wop and the classic composition of traditional romantic comedy for the original score.
Together, both of these slightly heightened strands make strange bedfellows and it’s not always clear what reaction Neuman and Dudeck want from their audience – to sympathise with Val and his chronically repellent friend or to judge them? The tone shifts inelegantly from comedy to melodrama while the overlong focus on the tedious back and forth of early dating shines an underserving light on the lead, making it hard to invest in the character.
Part of the problem is that these writers fail to construct any credible female characters, peopling their film with clichéd male fantasies from the pre-Me Too era with girls gyrating against or throwing themselves at any man they see and stripping off at every opportunity. And while Drew is sometimes the counter to that, she too has an entirely irrational mood swing that brings about the staple romcom third act obstacle, and yet she is the one that ends up having to compromise to earn their happy ending when neither man learns anything – a frustrating outcome.
#valentinesday may mix the travails of Internet dating with nods to the golden age of cinematic romance, but it feels like a throwback to another time, about 10 years ago when female characters were little more than set dressing. This 100-minute film is still a work in progress and while the pseudo-40s layer on a modern romance works well, the characterisation needs some repointing to make its attitudes and its women fit for 2021.
Release Date: TBC