There is a star in My Sassy Girl–and it’s not Jesse Bradford, who handles the leading romantic comedy man role effortless–it’s cinematographer Eric Schmidt, who makes New York City vibrant. There’s a lot of good in Yann Samuell’s direction (his composition is fantastic, his fast-fowarded transitions are, no shock, atrocious), but Schmidt’s cinematography brings that composition to life. There’s a soft texture to it, almost artificial, as though the filmmakers shot in Canada and put in digital backdrops (they didn’t). Schmidt’s idealized New York never looks like Hollywood New York, which is nice. Instead, it kind of looks like Ed Burns’s New York, if Burns were doing a mainstream (though not exactly, more on it later) romantic comedy. Had Burns done this romantic comedy… even made notes on a bar napkin… I wouldn’t be leading this post raving about the cinematographer.
There are two damning defects to My Sassy Girl–and not even the stupid fast-forwarded transitions, which I too would guess as one of them. In order of importance, they’re Elisha Cuthbert and the production. Cuthbert’s got a couple problems. First, she’s awful. Second, My Sassy Girl is a remake of a Korean film–and it follows enough of that film’s story to allow for comparisons to the original actress. They aren’t just unfavorable to Cuthbert, they’re withering. Cuthbert doesn’t have a single good scene in the film–there’s one moment at the end when I thought she was going to have one, but then she pulls through and doesn’t.
Some of the problem with Cuthbert–I mean, she can’t really be unappealing all the time, right, someone cast her in the film–is the production. My Sassy Girl, besides the dumb fast-forwarding transitions, maintains a very strange tone for an attempt at a Hollywood romantic comedy. Samuell’s French and apparently the producers let him do some stuff and it really doesn’t work. But those flourishes are at the beginning and are just bad exposition. The tone for the film’s big romantic comedy ending is a clingy melancholic one, almost like a tearjerker. What works in a Korean film–which had a lot of playfulness this remake flushes–does not work in an American one, not because of culture or filmmaking skill, but because this film runs ninety minutes, the original runs two hours and twenty minutes. What’s getting cut is important stuff….
A lot of the cut material would have been for Bradford, who barely has a character. He and his movie friend–because it’s unclear how they’d ever become friends–camp out on a rooftop underneath the Empire State Building. The story of how these two guys decide to camp out on a rooftop underneath the Empire State Building… a lot more interesting than anything going on in the film. Too bad it happens off screen.
Bradford manages the narration as well as can be expected, but it’s bad. At times, he almost looks embarrassed and he should be. Bradford’s performance–as well as Chris Sarandon, in a small role–make the film’s failure for legitimacy even more glaring. It’s clear the filmmakers were going for something different than the traditional romantic comedy, something staying in the spirit of the original, but it’s incompetently handled. The title makes no sense in the remake’s context (it’s a story point in the original). Such a big oversight is something I’d think screenwriter Victor Levin would notice and remedy, but he doesn’t.
It’s not a disappointment at all (in fact, once Schmidt starts shooting those New York exteriors, it’s frequently lovely… visually anyway), just because it opens so poorly and has to get better. And Cuthbert’s bad from the start, so there’s no expectation she’ll get any better. At least it’s something standard handled with a more artful touch.
And Bradford does make a lot of it worthwhile.
Directed by Yann Samuell; screenplay by Victor Levin, based on the film by Kwak Jae-Young and the novel by Kim Ho-sik; director of photography, Eric Schmidt; edited by Anita Brandt-Burgoyne; music by David Kitay; production designer, Kalina Ivanov; produced by Paul Brooks, Mark Morgan, Guy Oseary and Jay Polstein; released by Gold Circle Films.
Starring Jesse Bradford (Charlie Bellow), Elisha Cuthbert (Jordan Roark), Austin Basis (Leo), Chris Sarandon (Dr. Roark), Jay Patterson (Roger Bellow), Tom Aldredge (Old Man), Louis Mustillo (Doorman), Brian Reddy (Mr. Phipps) and Joanna Gleason (Aunt Sally).