A certain level of gimmickry is expected from romantic comedies, a genre that requires obstacles be continually put in the path of true love. Few resort, however, to the desperate measures of I Hate Valentine’s Day, an unspeakable nadir in the career of its writer-director-star, My Big Fat Greek Wedding’s Nia Vardalos. Here Vardalos plays a woman with a romantic philosophy as novel as it is idiotic. She doesn’t believe in relationships or commitment but considers herself something of a love guru. So she’ll go on exactly five dates with prospective suitors, then disappear dramatically before things get stale or overly intense. Ah, but what happens when the irresistible force of Vardalos’ impossible romantic philosophy meets the immovable object of true love? Exactly what you’d expect. And dread.
Wearing a terrifying perma-smile that suggests she’s either high on ecstasy, a cult leader, or the victim of plastic surgery gone horribly awry, Vardalos plays a spunky single gal who works at a flower store with two wisecracking gay pals always willing to chime in with advice or a quip. Vardalos never has cause to question the wisdom of her five-date plan until a restaurant called Get On Tapas opens in the neighborhood under the leadership of John Corbett. Like most golden-voiced, unthreateningly handsome, kind, successful entrepreneurs with law degrees, Corbett just can’t catch a break romantically until he falls hopelessly in love with Vardalos. But can their affair make it past the five-date mark? Will Vardalos end Corbett’s long losing streak?
Most women would be willing to sacrifice a limb or major organ for an opportunity to be with someone as improbably perfect as Corbett’s character, but it takes Vardalos a damnably long time to figure out what audiences will understand immediately: that her system is an impediment to romantic success, not a recipe for it. Vardalos is supposed to come off as a true romantic irrevocably scarred by her father’s abandonment, but she registers as a mentally ill narcissist who never made it beyond the middle-school stage of emotional development. If the comic strip character Cathy were to make a movie, this would be it.