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1 May 2024

Should romcoms be sincere or ironic?

The Fall Guy and The Idea of You offer two very different approaches to the genre – one playful, one mushy.

By David Sexton

Does being meta make movies better? The Fall Guy presumes so. This action romcom, starring Ryan Gosling as a stuntman pursuing debut film director Emily Blunt on the set of a daft sci-fi adventure, is a spoof from beginning to end, constantly referencing its precedents, playing around with familiar conventions.

The one thing it takes seriously is the performance of action stunts themselves, the film ending up an earnest homage to the stand-in heroes who in the past made such scenes possible, only to be effaced in favour of the stars. Given that CGI is now increasingly relied on for stunts, the tribute is nostalgic, almost a homily.

The Fall Guy is directed by David Leitch, who was a stuntman for 20 years, including five times for Brad Pitt and twice for Jean-Claude Van Damme, before he moved into film-making. He collaborated on John Wick and then went on to direct Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw and Bullet Train, which have taken $2.9bn at the box office.

The Fall Guy is loosely based on the Eighties TV series of the same name starring Lee Majors as Colt Seavers, a Hollywood stuntman who had a sideline as a bounty hunter. The latter aspect has been binned. This film is entirely set within the world of film-making and never ceases to remind us of that.

Colt (the ever-perfect Gosling) is the best in the business, the stuntman for the world’s biggest star, the insanely vain Tom Ryder (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who has no idea how to be funny) and romancing a beautiful camera operator, Jody (Blunt), when he has an accident and breaks his back. Eighteen months later, he’s a wreck, no longer in touch with Jody.

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Then pushy producer Gail (Hannah Waddingham) claims that Jody has requested him for her directorial debut, “Metalstorm”, a preposterous cowboys-and-aliens epic being filmed in Sydney, Australia. Off he goes, and he is soon not only performing stunts again and rekindling his romance with the surprised Jody, but also trying to find the film’s missing star, Ryder, while mystery villains try to kill him for real. There are fights galore, crazy truck chases, speedboat races, massive explosions, falls from helicopters, a super stunt dog, the works. The pretexts are slight or jovially meta (“If this were The Fugitive and you were Harrison Ford, the bad guys would be closing in”) but no matter. If stunts do it for you, stunts are stunts, no complaints.

This spoofy approach works less well in the romance story. There are some smart in-jokes – a sequence in which Colt and Jody talk on split-screen, well aware that they are “on screen together but in separate worlds”, for example – but the relationship never convinces. Gosling makes it work, sometimes Drive-tough, sometimes Ken-accommodating, but Blunt’s at a loss. The film’s heart is given over to honouring the stunt community, an esoteric passion.

The Idea of You, on the other hand, is a mushy romcom playing it straight. Solène (Anne Hathaway) – an art-gallery owner in LA, newly 40, recently divorced, with a teenage daughter – finds love by chance with the star of the hottest boy band on the planet, gorgeous 24-year-old Hayes Campbell (Nicholas Galitzine). He’s so handsome, talented yet modest, sexy and charming – British, too. With the world at his feet, he is exclusively smitten with her. An example to all of us men. Their problem is not the 16-year-age gap but the outraged reaction of the band’s fans on social media – and the upset it causes Solène’s daughter Izzy (Ella Rubin). Can love find a way?

The Idea of You, directed by Michael Showalter, adapts Robinne Lee’s pulpy 2017 novel. Lee, strikingly good-looking, acted in the Fifty Shades franchise – but found as she turned 40 that she was no longer offered hot roles, only mom parts. So she wrote this explicit fantasy of a woman reclaiming her sexuality “just at the point that society traditionally writes women off as desirable and viable and whole”. Hayes is her dream guy, a lot like Harry Styles, she says, with elements of Prince Harry – happily not obtrusive in the movie.

The Idea of You inhabits its genre, hitting all the sweet spots, from “I can’t do this any more” to “I love you” reciprocated. Galitzine is understated and loose-limbed but Hathaway, in her first romcom role for years, is terrific, ridiculously glamorous in embracing her age. “I could be your mother,” Solène protests. “But you’re not,” retorts Hayes. The yearnings of the heart may be comical as well as romantic, but maybe they’re better not spoofed?

“The Fall Guy” and “The Idea of You” are in cinemas now

[See also: Challengers review: Luca Guadagnino’s wryly horny tennis film]

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This article appears in the 01 May 2024 issue of the New Statesman, Labour’s Forward March