It can be so easy to mock romantic comedies and dramas, that when a genuinely moving one comes along, it actually feels refreshing to be able to put cynicism to one side and appreciate a heartfelt story with full sincerity. Do You Take This Man, the narrative feature debut from writer/director Joshua Tunick, has an empathetic warmth that continues to grow as the film progresses – the story isn’t particularly innovative for the genre, but the characters are believable and their respective situations universally relatable, which helps make this story feel as utterly refreshing as it is heartwarming.
The film depicts the day before the wedding of Daniel (Anthony Rapp) and Christopher (Jonathan Bennett). Daniel’s life is falling over in to stress due to his meticulous wedding planning, while Christopher’s is thrown in to confusion when his former best friend Emma (Alona Tal) is reintroduced in to his life as a wedding gift from his close friends. Having never told Daniel about his confused relationship with Emma, or even referenced her as being a vital part of his life, Christopher ends up causing minor conflict by being accused of keeping unnecessary secrets from his fiancee – something amplified after their ordained friend calls at the eleventh hour to say she can’t make the wedding the next morning. Knowing Daniel will act irrationally, Christopher attempts to focus on a nice meal with family and friends, which he hopes will sugarcoat the eventual truth bomb.
In the film’s earlier stages, it feels like the film is about to give way to a cynical reveal that will upend the couple’s impending nuptials just hours before the ceremony. There are undisclosed secrets between the couple lurking in the background, which are present to the audience, that initially feel like a classic screenwriting signal that things are going to get messed up as the story marches towards its climax.
To the film’s credit, these are handled with in a manner that avoids sensationalism, driving the narrative forward but without risking the pair’s feelings for each other, in the soap opera inspired style of many romantic films. In this respect, despite the glamorous California setting, it feels realistic- there is no unnecessary drama, just a couple you can’t help but root for dealing with stressful scenarios in a manner which rings true.
It’s a rare romantic comedy that introduces complex characters instead of idealistic ones, yet doesn’t shy away from the feeling of romantic happiness. There are very few sequences of the couple lovingly embracing during the course of the film, but you never doubt the connection the two share – another initial assumption, that their mismatched nature would prove to be an obstacle by the film’s close (something which appears to be suggested right from the very opening shot of uncomfortable spooning), rather charmingly upended.
The film’s entire narrative plays out differently to how I cynically would have assumed prior to watching. It’s a great reminder that real romantic relationships don’t conform to narrative structures, where conflict always lies around corner- and the realistic dynamic between the two continues to prove refreshing when forged in to a recognisable narrative template that seems to be begging for confrontation between them. Here, dramatic incidents are dealt with by the characters in the manner any mature adult would, with any major behavioural shifts easily explained by the stress of arranging a ceremony.
One of the ways the film manages to be convincing in its characterisations is the way it calmly and collectively discusses Daniel’s mental health issues. Although some characters view him as a workaholic who is only functioning well if he’s on the brink of disaster, it is clear that his stress is more of a symptom of long term anxiety- something which a lesser film would sensationalise as a plot point, or worse, turn it in to a kooky character quirk. Here, he is depicted as a relatable sufferer of anxiety- a quiet person whose tendency to overthink, and inability to stop this train of thought, leads to many moments of panic that the characters are all used to by now.
In summary, Do You Take This Man is a really pleasant surprise- a defiantly uncynical romantic drama, where the emotionally arresting qualities all rely on the audience assuming the narrative will take a cynical turn for the worse. You root for the couple and want to make sure they make it down the aisle unscathed- and how many recent screen romances can you say that for?
All pictures reproduced courtesy of Breaking Glass Pictures