Continuing its annual tradition of screening a marathon of anti-romantic comedies leading up to Valentine’s Day, the Film Anthology Archives presents “Modern Romance,” a bleak, blunt but oddly mellow look at a particularly toxic relationship.
Albert Brooks — both the star and director of the film — plays a film editor who breaks up with his girlfriend (Kathryn Harrold). He then spends the rest of the film alternating between trying to get her back and pretending he’s fine. That’s really is all there is to the film. There’s a light subplot about the film he’s working on, but this is a very single-track film that follows the relationship between the pathetic man and the woman he loves.
The result is something that works like the classic show “Gang Busters,” and it largely relies on emotional tone. The film is incredibly laid back. Because of the relevant lack of music, cut changes and set up jokes, the film’s humor relies on Brook’s neurotic outward monologues. The result is something that feels natural, believable and bizarre.
Brooks — perhaps best known by this generation as the voice of “Finding Nemo’s” Marlin — brings his A-game to the film. His monotone whine, frantic stream-of-consciousness and constant manipulations slowly reveal that rare kind of toxic person who is too wormy and pathetic to recognize his own bad behavior. Kathryn — a woman who the audience quickly empathizes with only to be incredibly frustrated when she continually enables the conniving actions of Brook’s character — also feels fleshed-out and genuine.
This poisonous relationship between two people who have no reason to be together produces the dry humor that makes this film depressingly believable. The second half of the film sees the couple reuniting, allowing the audience to view all the negative aspects of their relationship. From never talking about their problems to always assuming the worst, it is awkward and uncomfortable to watch Brooks create these embarrassing scenarios. The ending serves as one of the most subdued, defeating endings one could possibly have for a film like this where literally none of the characters learn anything.
Brilliantly deadpan and morbid, “Modern Romance” is one of the most realized and depressing looks at a toxic relationship around. This movie reminds the audience that abuse and toxicity can be simultaneously subdued, verbal and mutual.
“Modern Romance” is on view at the Film Anthology Archives along with “We Won’t Grow Old Together” at 32 Second Ave from Feb. 14-17.
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