Some Kind of Beautiful, which apparently at one point had the significantly less generic (but kind of icky) title How to Make Love Like an Englishman, is a breezily sentimental romantic comedy in which everybody is hateful to one another. Look past its colorful, smooth surfaces and something corrosive emerges. And it’s not like the film isn’t aware of this. But it doesn’t really know what to do with it.
The movie’s well cast, though. Pierce Brosnan plays Richard, a Cambridge English professor who when we first meet him is carrying on his father’s legacy of lecturing to adoring co-eds about the Romantic Age while shtupping them after class. One of those co-eds, Kate (Jessica Alba), has snared him, however; six months into their relationship, she’s convinced him to come down to London to meet her visiting corporate raider father. Dad never shows (in fact, we never meet him), but Kate’s half-sister Olivia (Salma Hayek) does, and before he realizes that she’s family, Richard begins to put the moves on her — and this time, we suspect, he means it. But then Kate announces that she’s pregnant and has gotten a job at a venture capital firm in Los Angeles. And just like that, she and Richard have moved to La La Land.
Richard’s enamored audience of eager Cambridge romantics is gone, replaced instead by a bunch of apathetic California kids. But life has some consolations for our proudly chauvinistic Lothario: He dotes on his young son, and he and Kate live in a huge, beautiful beachfront property her father has apparently bought her out of guilt. (Dad has a lot to live down to, it seems; there’s a reason Olivia is Kate’s half-sister.) All that seems to come crashing down when Richard discovers his wife is cheating on him with one of her co-workers. Luckily, their estate is big enough that Richard just moves into the pool house and goes back to his old habit of boinking beautiful young grad students.
What about Olivia? For her part, she lives on the other side of the country and is marrying her vain, celebrity writer boyfriend, so the plot still has a few moves to get through before she and Richard can wind up together. (What? That surprises you? Hayek is 48, Brosnan is 62; in Hollywood terms, they’re perfect for each other.) There are, um, other subplots. Richard wants to teach at a more respectable institution. He also needs to schedule his green-card interview, which he’s been delaying for some years and has now been thrown into uncertainty by his failing marriage. He also winds up going to rehab after he’s pulled over while driving on alcohol and painkillers. Academy Award winner Marlee Matlin shows up in an almost insultingly brief role — brief enough, in fact, that you wonder if maybe this movie has had some troubles in the editing room. Malcolm McDowell also pops up, in a somewhat meatier role, as Richard’s bitter father, to hurl goofy old-man insults at everybody before proving himself to be a softie at heart. Lord, it’s a mess. The screenplay at times feels like a checklist instead of a narrative, coolly clocking in plot elements before moving on to the next thing.
Believe it or not, Some Kind of Beautiful actually wants to be a story of fathers and sons. It opens on Richard recounting, via flashback, his own youth to his young boy, and explaining how his dad’s combination of Romantic encomia and lustful philandering perpetuated his own charmingly slimy ways. There is a sense — a vague one, but still — that Richard needs to settle down and become a real adult before he passes his debilitating, amoral apathy on to his son. But the film never figures out how to reconcile all these disparate elements — and without giving anything away, it finally does so in the most clunky and unimaginative way possible.
It’s not the cheap resolution, however, that’s the real problem. It’s the fact that the film gives us characters being grotesquely duplicitous to each other, but doesn’t provide any of the requisite shading that might provide some insights into their behavior, or even make us care about whether they mend their ways or find love and happiness. That’s because they’re not actually people; they’re contrivances, and their actions serve to do little more than move us on to the next obvious and awkward plot point. Some Kind of Beautiful wants us to laugh and to feel warm and fuzzy, but it’s a work of transparent cynicism.