Since couples can't meet, fall in love, and live happily ever after within the first few minutes of a film, romantic comedies are all about delayed gratification, which usually requires outrageous contrivances to keep the happy pair apart. A Lot Like Love does more contorting than most, with plenty of annoying little meet-cutes and improbable hiccups in timing, but at bottom, the dilemma facing its leads is refreshingly common and practical. Love doesn't usually adhere to any pre-set schedule, but people plan their lives as if it does, especially recent college graduates like Ashton Kutcher, who would prefer to get his "ducks in a row" before committing himself to something permanent. Of course, no one would ever think to pass a potential lover a note requesting she call him in seven years, once he's moved out of his old room and become a successful dot-com entrepreneur, but at least it's plausible that he would put his career first.
Perhaps it's Kutcher's fault for lowering the bar so far that an underachieving time-passer like A Lot Like Love can make an easy vault, but for one of his films to weigh puppy love against adult responsibilities is at least a baby step toward maturity. Consider this: Kutcher stakes his fortunes on an Internet diaper business, but not once does a wailing baby urinate all over his Armani suit. Now that's growth! When Kutcher first eyes the punkish Amanda Peet at an airport, she kicks off a quirky hot-and-cold relationship by inducting him into the Mile High Club, then brushing him off once they hit solid ground. On the rebound from a fresh breakup, Peet isn't ready to yield to Kutcher's charms. So begins an affair that intermittently flares up when the stars are in alignment, and fades away just as quickly.
At a certain point, it becomes absurd for these two to continue playing games with each other, no matter how mismatched their current locations or priorities. Kutcher and Peet are a low-wattage pair, with little of the verbal riffing that counts as seduction in most romantic comedies, but they have real chemistry together, and A Lot Like Love happily indulges their silly, juvenile one-upmanship. During one dinner scene, they vow not to speak to each other, launch a staring contest, and spit fountains of water across the table. Then one pretends to choke to death while the other looks on impassively. They behave like 10-year-olds in adult bodies, but their fun translates surprisingly well: Who wouldn't want these kids to shoot spitballs for all eternity?