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California Romanza (2011)

 -  Short | Comedy | Romance  -  9 April 2011 (USA)
6.9
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Lena heads to her Auntie JoJo and Uncle Pops' for annual Christmastime festivities. Little does she know, this Christmas will be like none of the rest.

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Title: California Romanza (2011)

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Lena heads to her Auntie JoJo and Uncle Pops' for annual Christmastime festivities. Little does she know, this Christmas will be like none of the rest.

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Unnatural dialogue and characters in a film of forced cutesiness and self-conscious quirkiness
8 February 2014 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

After watching yet another strong performance from Eva Mendes (a woman who could easily coast on her looks but yet frequently takes more difficult roles), I was curious to see this debut turn as director so, although a month or so late for Christmas, I watched this. The plot sees Lena going to Uncle Pops and Aunt JoJo's house or Christmas but finds them in the middle of a fight over how the cat got out. As they set out to look for the cat will they also find a more memorable Christmas?

If the plot summary sounds cutesy and twee then it is not deliberate, it is just a side effect of watching this short film which is both of those things in spades. The warning bells ring early in this film as it is brought to you by Glamour Magazine and as such I immediately find myself outside of target audience – although I doubt even the target audience will love this. The plot relies heavily on the characters and the viewer warming to them and the situation, and this is where I had all my problems because the film seemed to be pushing me away more than drawing me in. It is just too deliberately cute and lovely and quirky and charming and it works so very hard to be all of those things that it actually ends up being full of forced sugary sweetness, sentiment and forced quirky cuteness.

It isn't one place, this is part of the problem; it is throughout. The musical score is constant and "quirky and cute"; the scenes and dialogue are forced and staged with no natural flow to them – this would have maybe been OK if they had been clever or funny, but they aren't and every word sounds like a line, not a sentence. Accordingly the performances are not great. Ricci is cute as hell if that is what you want and there is a certain charm to her doing her wiggle dance but she has no character and all she is is her quirky outfit and her cute charm. Garity just lumps along aside her though and the idea that I would care about them as a couple is killed dead by him. Stern is deliberately quirky and Najimy acts bigger than the dialogue can support – she is giving the performance of someone with much funnier lines in a much better film. As director and writer, Mendes has to carry the can for this – although maybe to her this tone of festive quirky romance was her goal and in which case she did a great job?!

To me though, it never worked. It is unnatural throughout and the attempts to be quirky, cute and charming are all forced to the point of the viewer rejecting them. This leaves little else, since the narrative device is little more than a frame for us to fall in love with these characters on Christmas, which I never did. Maybe this would work best at Christmas with a few drinks in you and a sense of forgiving festiveness; but in the cold light of February, it isn't up to much.


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