The first 15 minutes of the romantic comedy One Small Hitch are almost unbearable to watch because the cliché count is off the charts. If viewers can get past the setup, and then look beyond the stale Catholic and Jewish jokes, the denigration of women, the pop song montages and the borrowing of numerous plot devices from rom-coms spanning It Happened One Night to The Proposal, they’ll discover a singularly winsome performance from one of the leads. It’s not enough, however, to elevate her character or the film from rom-com pablum.
Molly Mahoney (Aubrey Dollar) is flying home to Chicago for her mom’s wedding. She’s bringing a mystery man, which is code for “loser musician boyfriend,” but at the airport, she finds out that he’s married and jettisons him in the terminal. Also headed to the wedding is the film’s leading man and Molly’s brother’s best friend. Josh (Shane McRae) is the type of guy who dumps his girlfriend just before leaving for the airport because she’s presumptuously packed too many bridal magazines for the trip. Just as he’s about to retreat to a nearby hotel with a woman he met in the airport lounge, Josh runs into a distraught Molly. He does the right thing and stays with his friend’s kid sister. If this meet-cute weren’t fraught with enough emotion already, screenwriter Dode B. Levenson (whose other credits include Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest and Mutual Needs) adds another twist. Josh gets a call from his parents: His dad (Daniel J. Travanti) has terminal cancer, and he tells his son that his only regret is never meeting the woman Josh will marry. Ever the quick thinker, Josh asks, “But Dad, what if you already have?” Mind you, all this action happens before the couple even takes off from LAX.
Molly wants no part of a fake engagement, but she has no choice when they’re greeted at the airport by her large Irish Catholic family, their priest in tow, and Josh’s Jewish contingent, led by his effusive father. It’s painful to witness all the stereotypical cultural and religious jokes that follow at an impromptu engagement party, with Josh at one point throwing out a line about leprechauns, dancing jigs and Lucky Charms. As their lie grows over the wedding weekend, their long-latent feelings surface. Josh and Molly share an apartment above his parents’ framing shop, and when she takes the bed while he crashes on the couch, separated by a wall, it’s an obvious nod to the classic “Walls of Jericho” scene in It Happened One Night. Unfortunately, the allusion only shows how the latter film pales in comparison.
Josh asks Molly to stay in Chicago for an extra month while he helps with the family business during his father’s illness. She agrees, although it’s icky to watch a film play the guilt/cancer card a little too often. It’s also unbelievable that these two have no other commitments that they could both stay in Chicago and still make enough money for rent in L.A.
As helmed by first-time feature director John Burgess, the leads have decent chemistry together, but some of the scenes scream “film school,” with cringe-inducing dialogue and performances, coupled with inelegant camera shots. Mumblecore it’s not. The film improves slightly as it progresses, with most credit to Dollar, whose ease and charm call to mind Anna Kendrick (and not only because of the red hair). Dollar’s character Molly, however, leaves much to be desired. She’s the type of construct that can indirectly set women’s on-screen roles back years.
The over-the-top loser boyfriend at the beginning of the film notwithstanding, Molly is easily manipulated by Josh’s charm and good looks into every part of the harebrained scheme. If that weren’t bad enough, she comments how great being engaged—even fake engaged—makes her feel. The character spouts lines about waiting her whole life for a guy to give her his grandmother’s wedding ring. And speaking of rings, she knows the exact karat and cut of the ring Josh offers in one glance. Molly’s also shown sitting around the apartment moping for Josh while he’s playing friends-with-benefits with another woman. The not-so-subtle subtext: The man gets to sow his wild oats, but the woman must remain as virginal as possible for audiences to accept the happily-ever-after. It’s a tiresome storyline that needs to be retired. When Molly offers him the same no-strings deal without really meaning it, she comes off as a little desperate.
One Small Hitch should have settled on being a cute but insipid romantic comedy. By emphasizing a lead character who does nothing more than play into a wedding fantasy in hopes that a frog will turn into her prince is ultimately more tragic than comic.
Director: John Burgess
Writer: Dode B. Levenson
Starring: Aubrey Dollar, Shane McRae, Daniel J. Travanti, Janet Ulrich Brooks, Ron Dean, Mary Jo Faraci, Robert Belushi, Rebecca Spence, Heidi Johanningmeier
Release Date: Feb. 6, 2015 on VOD and in select theaters
Christine N. Ziemba is a Los Angeles-based freelance pop culture writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow her on Twitter.