THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Most of us at one time or another have had a crush on a movie star. In fact, I would argue that this is a big reason why many of us go to the movies in the first place. It’s also why there is a proliferation of websites devoted to nearly every actor or actress you can think of. Have you ever gone to a film you knew would be crappy just because you thought the star of it was sexy? Or have you ever downloaded a picture of a “hot” star from the internet? If so, now imagine that you get to go on a date with that celebrity. Sound like fun? That’s the general concept of Win a Date with Tad Hamilton! (The exclamation point is part of the title, not something I’ve added for emphasis.)

Kate Bosworth (Blue Crush) plays Rosalee Futch, a grocery clerk in Frasier’s Bottom, West Virginia. She and her best friend Cathy (Ginnifer Goodwin) idolize a hunky movie star named Tad Hamilton (Josh Duhamel). They see all his movies at the local cinema and fantasize about what he’d be like in real life. This idol worship nauseates Rosalee’s boss Pete (Topher Grace of “That 70s Show”), but that is likely due to the fact that he’s secretly in love with her. While goofing around in the break room of the grocery store, Rosalee comes across an internet contest where the grand prize is a date with her favorite star. She enters and wins.

What Rosalee doesn’t know is that Tad is not the humanitarian she thinks him to be. In fact, he drinks, smokes, picks up loose women, and lives a party-boy lifestyle. The contest has been organized by his agent and manager (Nathan Lane and Sean Hayes) as a way of cleaning up his image. Tad wants the starring role in a major director’s new movie, but said filmmaker is reluctant to hire him because of his bad industry reputation. By going out with a commoner, everyone hopes that Tad’s image will improve enough to remove the director’s doubts. After meeting Rosalee, he decides that her “goodness” might be beneficial for him as more than a PR stunt, so he moves to Frasier’s Bottom in order to hang around her more.

I think there are certain things about the plot that you can surmise from this point, such as the fact that Tad ends up actually falling in love with Rosalee. You probably also will not be surprised that this irritates Pete. And since he has never actually confessed his love to Rosalee, you will also rightly assume that he will eventually be spurred into action. There are more than a few familiar elements to Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!, but you know what? I really didn’t mind. Here’s an example of a film taking a familiar plot and making it fresh by adding an original twist and tossing in some really good performances.

The twist is that Tad is a movie star. Writer Victor Levin and director Robert Luketic (Legally Blonde) use this as a jumping off point for some moments of inspired satire. They have fun spoofing the image people have of movie stars, as well as the image movie stars have of regular people. For example, Rosalee has bought into the idea that Tad is a wholesome guy, when really he’s out-of-control, totally caught up in the vices that are all too available to the rich and famous. He, meanwhile, initially assumes she is something of a rube because West Virginia is so far from L.A. I also loved the portrayal of Rosalee’s dad (Gary Cole, in an extremely funny performance). He thinks he needs to show Tad how hip he can be, so he starts overloading on show biz statistics to use as conversation starters. The first time he meets Tad, he begins dissecting a movie’s “domestic box office.” Now that I think about it, his character also represents satire on the way industry information is now commonly accessible to people outside of Hollywood.

Then we come to the performances which, in a way, are better than they have any right to be. I am quite impressed with Kate Bosworth. She first came to my attention in Blue Crush. For that film, it would have been sufficient for her to simply stand around and look good in a bathing suit, but she brought a sense of toughness and strength to her role. She helped turn what could have been a lame “surf chick” movie into something that had more resonance. In this movie, she plays a completely different set of character traits. Rosalee is naïve, sweet, eternally sunny. She’s the kind of girl-next-door that all the guys fall in love with. Bosworth hits all the right beats, without ever resorting to “small town girl” stereotypes. It’s a really nice performance.

The other standout is Topher Grace. There’s something about this guy. He reminds me of Hugh Grant in that he’s able to take seemingly innocuous lines of dialogue and make them funny simply by the way he speaks them. Grace has a distinct sense of delivery – as well as a distinct collection of facial expressions and mannerisms. He’s hilarious in the movie, but he nails a key emotional scene as well. While I’m at it, let me throw some props toward Josh Duhamel as well. Rather than playing Tad Hamilton as a vapid pretty boy, he gives the character some dimension. This helps us get more involved in the romantic triangle.

Although director Luketic has only a few films under his belt, he has demonstrated strength as an observer of human comedy. He takes characters who could easily be written off (a ditzy blonde sorority sister, a hunky actor, a West Virginia grocery clerk) and shows them as intelligent, competent people. There’s no condescension toward them, nor is their any toward their situations. Win a Date with Tad Hamilton! is nominally about a girl falling in love with a movie star. On a deeper level, it’s about our obsessions with the things we want but can’t have: glamorous mates, simplified lives, or the cute blonde girl working the register in aisle five.

( out of four)

Win a Date with Tad Hamilton is rated PG-13 for sexual content, some drug references and language. The running time is 1 hour and 36 minutes.

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