Literally, Right Before Aaron

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Literally, Right Before Aaron
"As sweet as it is bitter."

How good are you at remaining friends with people with whom you've had relationships? Some people manage really well; others can't cope at all. Adam (Justin Long) wants to be in the former camp. It's not just about the fact that he really likes his ex, Allison (Cobie Smulders) as a friend, or about the fact that (even if he struggles to admit it to himself) he hopes they'll get back together - it's about his own identity. He wants to be the sort of man who respects the autonomy of the women in his life. Theory, however, may prove easier than practice.

Long has a natural charm which is employed here to the full, making his character endlessly likeable despite the fact that even he will ultimately realise he's fallen short of his aims. It's a descent obscured by his tendency, from the start, to be playfully insulting, sabotaging other people's fun and his own with self-deprecating wit. Ryan Eggold's sharp script and the easy chemistry between Long and Smulders invites viewers familiar with the language of romcoms to see their romance as something meant to be; but it's in the past, she's about to marry another man, and Adam has been invited to the wedding.

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"I thought I might never see you again," says Allison, explaining why she got in touch. Adam gently accuses her of over-dramatising. Of course he still wants to be around her. And he doesn't dislike Aaron (Ryan Hansen) who is, uh, very good at tennis. We see his interactions with them in present time intercut with flashbacks to the romance, and with Adam's fantasy solutions, which are very much a product of Hollywood. The lightheartedness of these scenes disguises the pain at the film's core, which makes it all the more potent when we see it.

Eggold's colour palette is bright and bold. The glossy look belies the film's indie roots and sensibility. Tight framing in many of the flashbacks suggests Adam's intense emotional focus on Allison or, looked at another way, his failure to pay attention to the wider world that will gradually come between them. Meanwhile, friends and relatives constantly ask him how he's feeling and tell him what a lovely couple the two of them made. The comedy at his expense is vicious despite everyone's good intentions. Adam is so beleaguered that one wants to forgive him even when Allison knows she can't afford to. But perhaps the shiny remembered past was worth it.

A romantic comedy for grown-ups, as sweet as it is bitter, Literally, Right Before Aaron is smart and funny and brave enough to know when to be bleak.

Reviewed on: 26 Sep 2017
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Still reeling from his breakup with college sweetheart Allison, Adam's world is thrown into further chaos when he’s surprisingly invited to attend her wedding.

Festivals:

Tribeca 2017

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