For a while he was “that kid from the Jeepers Creepers movies.” Over the years, however, Justin Long has crafted a winning slate of comedic characters, swooping in and sprinkling a just-left-of-center charm into the sorts of roles for which you get the sense Paul Rudd was deemed a little bit too old, a little bit too expensive, or both. And while he’s no bankable star, mostly finding solace in ensembles and animated voice work, Long can still reliably anchor a movie as a leading man, as he did in 2006’s underrated, pleasantly anarchic alt-college comedy Accepted. All of which laid the groundwork for a certain level of expectation with regard to Long’s screenwriting debut, A Case of You. Sadly, it’s more a case of disappointments.
The film stars Long as Sam, a New York City writer who makes a living churning out lucrative but creatively unfulfilling tie-in novelizations for hit genre movies. Sam lacks any sort of comfort in romantic banter, let alone pick-up. In almost every conceivable way he’s the opposite of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s cocksure title character from Don Jon. So when Birdie (Evan Rachel Wood), the quirky barista on whom he’s been nursing a crush, gets canned from her job, Sam tracks her down online not to ask her out, but to study and read her Facebook profile like tech-age tea leaves, in order to more convincingly craft a façade of shared tastes.
His roommate, Eliot (co-writer Keir O’Donnell), advises Sam to just ask her out, but Sam undertakes a regimen of Joan Baez and judo, bourbon and ballroom dancing. He has to be Birdie’s perfectly complementary dream man in order to even stand a chance with her, he feels. Eventually, Sam does ask her out, and things proceed swimmingly for a bit. But while it’s a creative boon to boot, Sam feels like a victim of his scheme’s success, unable to relax and be himself. Cue self-sabotage in 3, 2, 1…
A Case of You takes its title from the much-covered song of the same name from Joni Mitchell’s Blue—somewhat curious, given that Baez is the object of Birdie’s stated fascination. Wood imbues Birdie (who says things like, “Success is a myth.Love is the only true currency,” and “I love these things now. I may not later…”) with the requisite flirty, well-read vivaciousness of your average artistically minded Manic Pixie Dream Girl. And because she’s a gifted actress, Wood can convincingly sell it, lending some of her scenes with Long little, fleeting moments of levitational charm. Birdie never much feels like a real, multi-dimensional character, however.
The supporting cast call sheet reads like a roster of called-in favors by Long, which is entertaining on a surface level but basically fool’s gold and a shame, since the material generally doesn’t rise to give them much interesting to do. Sienna Miller pops up for a scene as the married-and-pregnant ex-girlfriend who kickstarts Sam’s latest existential crisis, Vince Vaughn plays Sam’s chatty agent, and Peter Dinklage is a fey coffeeshop employee. Brendan Fraser and Sam Rockwell, meanwhile, pump life into their functional roles as Birdie’s rocker ex-boyfriend, Tony, and a guitar instructor nursing an unusual obsession with the Spin Doctors, respectively.
Director Kat Coiro brought plenty of snap to the bawdy, sharply observed L!fe Happens, which married female buddy comedy with single mother drama in a way that wasn’t constructed for sitcom whimsy or scene-to-scene contrivance. Here, though, perhaps because she doesn’t have a hand in the material, she succumbs to lazy, hackish instincts. Does that mean a wacky montage in which Sam forgets to put the top on a blender while learning to cook? Yes, yes it does! Flat framing abounds, and Coiro, cinematographer Doug Chamberlain and the rest of the production team are never able to mount realistically disparate worlds for their supposedly oh-so-different characters.
Mostly, though, the film’s faults lie in its screenplay, which comes off as a fatally wounded vanity project mixture of half-explored ideas and misguided compromises, hashed out online from time stolen on the sets of other films. Penned by Long, O’Donnell and the former’s younger brother, Christian Long, A Case of You has an interesting notion at its core—how we’re more than the sum of our itemized social media likes and favorites, but increasingly slaves to ever more harshly prescribed self-definition. The movie’s treatment of this is facile, however, and never goes anywhere of substance.
A Case of You would seem to be peddling just another beta-male case of a guy not wanting to put himself out there. But Long’s portrayal of Sam isn’t quite nebbishy and angst-ridden enough. The more provocative reading—born out by Sam’s tragic relationship with his mother, and the fact that he becomes downright angry when Birdie says she loves him, because he feels like she doesn’t know the true him—is that Sam on a certain level hates women. Or at the very least he can’t love them because he doesn’t love himself. Again, however, A Case of You eschews any in-depth exploration of these concepts in favor of rom-com fluff and pat bromides.
In particular, its third act conflict and resolution all seem motivated not by the characters on screen chafing at change, growth or surrender, but instead by scenes from other movies—including a stupid, contrived fight, followed later by a realization and then a mad dash across the city, untucked shirt and all, for a stab at reconciliation. This aping of the familiar may “work” for its makers, but A Case of You will have lost viewers long before then.
Director: Kat Coiro
Writer: Justin Long, Christian Long & Keir O’Donnell
Starring: Justin Long, Evan Rachel Wood, Keir O’Donnell, Busy Philipps, Brendan Fraser, Sam Rockwell, Vince Vaughn, Peter Dinklage, Sienna Miller, Peter Billingsley
Release Date: Nov. 6, 2013