“Extraordinary how potent cheap music is,” says Amanda, the leading lady in Noel Coward’s “Private Lives.” Possibly Coward’s most famous line, it could have been the inspiration for the slight but enjoyable new romantic comedy, “A Lot Like Love.”
In the movie’s most charming scene, two one-time lovers are driving through the desert, trying to put their recent relationship screwups behind them. Emily (Amanda Peet) is behind the wheel, Oliver (Ashton Kutcher) won’t shut up about the girlfriend who has dumped him, so she turns up the volume on Chicago’s torchy anthem, “If You Leave Me Now.”
Seconds later, they’re both singing along, Oliver has abandoned his dogged attempts to dredge up the past, and they’re both suddenly having a terrific time. How potent indeed.
Oliver and Emily actually don’t know each other very well, but they share some history, a sense of humor and a song list, and they’re clearly meant for each other — though it takes several years for them to figure that out. Similarities to “When Harry Met Sally” are hard to ignore, though there’s no abstinence involved here.
Indeed, these soulmates begin their relationship by having sex. Emily and Oliver check each other out on a flight from Los Angeles to New York, she follows him to the restroom, locks the door behind them and initiates him into the Mile High Club. Out on the street, they get drunk, take pictures of each other, but when they split there’s no guarantee they’ll ever team up again.
Years later, it’s New Year’s Eve, Emily has just been dumped by her live-in boyfriend (Gabriel Mann), and she needs a party date. She calls Oliver, who just happens to be available, and even though the boyfriend shows up at the party, they have a pretty good time. Next morning, however, he’s off to San Francisco to a new job, and she’s back to life on the rebound.
And so it goes. The impulsive Emily and the sturdier Oliver’s off-again, on-again romance, interrupted by various bedmates who are clearly not right for them, moves in exactly the direction you’d expect. There’s even a climactic rush to the altar that suggests a remake of “The Graduate.”
But director Nigel Cole (“Calendar Girls”) and first-time screenwriter Colin Patrick Lynch still manage to keep the trip fairly interesting. So do Kutcher and Peet, who are confident enough that you almost swallow the more whimsical things Lynch dreams up for them to do.
He’s living with his parents when he isn’t promoting a high-tech diaper machine (yes, you read that right). She’s an actress who auditions for a vampire role in an independent film; then she becomes a photographer so talented that she gets a gallery show of her own.
Although the story takes place over the course of seven years, the script has almost no fun with cultural references, aside from fleeting mentions of “Beverly Hills 90210” and Seattle’s caffeine habit. And, of course, Chicago. Who knew that “If You Leave Me Now” was a love song for the ages?