LeBlanc Goes Bonkers in Discomforting, Unamusing 'Lovesick'

Directed by: Luke Matheny; Runtime: 85 minutes
Grade: D+

It's getting tougher and tougher for romantic comedies to dream up novel approaches to the same old formula. There's still enough substance in the evolving state of relationships and society for them to offer fresh outlooks on the genre, though, which makes it all the more frustrating to see hints of creativity lost in a clutter of flat humor or unconvincing characters. Lovesick falls into that category, the feature-length directorial debut from Luke Matheny that introduces an earnest, yet unsettling premise built around the neurotic jealousy of an otherwise appealing man whenever he falls in love. Instead of providing a sincere window into his psychotic obsession and deduction, this imbalanced rom-com misinterprets the persistently uncomfortable foibles of a mentally unstable hero as effective situational comedy, rendering a groan-worthy journey through the maze of a man's mind whose antics are far more dubious than charming.

Emmy nominee and Golden Globe winner Matt LeBlanc plays Charles Darby, a elementary school principal whose warm disposition has earned him plenty of fans at the school and around the community. He's single, though, despite those qualities, and it's not due to a lack of trying. Every time Charlie gets involved in a relationship, he gets incredibly jealous and finds ways of ruining things by imagining that his girlfriend is having an affair, often through elaborate reasoning ... and even a little detective work. Thinking that his taste in women is the root of the problem, Charlie has sworn off serious relationships, only casually dating people that he's certain he won't fall in love with. He's confronted with a dilemma after meeting Molly (Ali Larter), a delightful new teacher and dance instructor, where he must decide whether to maintain his distance or risk getting hurt again. At this junction, with the help of friends, Charlie begins to discover that his problems run deeper than his taste in the opposite sex.

Lovesick starts off completely on the wrong foot by presenting Charlie as this overly sulky and jaded individual, the kind of guy who randomly blurts out to children his glum viewpoint on romance and brings absurdly unbearable women to outings with his friends as a means of self-torture, or something. These aren't the sympathetic traits that the film thinks they are, instead letting an odious attitude hang in the air following a diatribe on the meaning of the word "Mate" and after Charlie's date goes off on an unfunny and pointlessly exaggerated racist tangent, ending with her wildly frisking a waiter she suspects of being a terrorist. Chevy Chase's phoned-in cameo as a narcissistic, porn-obsessed loon of a neighbor doesn't really help matters. The script from Community and King of the Hill writer/producer Dean Young elevates reality to the wrong ends here, to a point where Charlie almost seems like he's acting out of character before even really getting to know him, transformed from a reputable role model for his school's kids to someone who won't hesitate in manipulating and betraying one or more of the students.

That's excusable, or so Lovesick thinks, because Charlie has a mental health condition that gives him paranoia and anxiety when -- and only when -- he falls in love and can't handle the pressure of trusting his partner, hinged on neurochemical changes that simply cannot be helped. Driven by a performance from Matt LeBlanc that plays more like an aged Joey Tribbiani bumbling and furrowing his brow through a part well beyond his depth, the film attempts to make light of Charlie's psychotic extrapolations as he progresses beyond those whimsical first dates with Molly, suspiciously eyeing her every interaction with other men and monitoring any activity that doesn't involve him (and some that do). Where the likes of As Good As It Gets builds both compassion and disdain for the intolerable aspects of Melvin Udall's obsessive-compulsiveness, Charlie's condition merely comes across as creepy and embarrassing despite the good intentions behind it all. What bums me out is that few, if any, of his odd sleuthing endeavors end up getting any laughs, whether he's ribbiting someone's name during a date to provoke a response or repeatedly asking dinner hosts for a very specific piece of clothing.

Bizarrely, Lovesick still seems entirely content in following through with traditional rom-com inclinations, despite the madness of Charlie's behavior. Even ignoring how comfortable some of these characters seem to be with a principal who forced students to assist in his manic schemes, the outcome of it all feels disingenuous and hard to believe as LeBlanc's wacky hero works himself in and out of skin-crawling corners with Molly, sweetly and credulously played by Ali Larter. Charlie's suspicions end up being equally as bonkers as how the script withholds just enough info to feed his distrust, and while it's in service of expressing a worthwhile point about accepting inherent flaws and the nuance of jealousy and dedicated love, that message gets obstructed by the far-fetched merciful conditions that render it possible. Lovesick might make someone feel sorry for Principal Darby and his history of sabotaging relationships, but not enough for him reap the rewards of the genre's sentimental formula.

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