There’s more than a bit of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" as well as desperation in Josh Lawson’s “Long Story Short,” a romantic comedy that ends up being neither.
Hoping to create the similar sense of magic found in “Groundhog Day” and “About Time,” the film employs a magical premise that’s just as good as any used in a fantasy of this ilk.
Unfortunately, writer/director Josh Lawson can’t create the proper tone of whimsy to pull this off, while the movie’s lead lacks the requisite charm to sell this particular brand of soap.
Rafe Spall is Teddy, a flummoxed young man who marries the love of his life (Zahra Newman) after an incredibly awkward meet cute.
It’s a whirlwind romance to be sure, but they’re impetuous as only film couples are, driven to make rash decisions by impatient screenwriters.
Unfortunately, there’s something amiss in their wedded bliss — seems as though Teddy has been cursed by a stranger (Noni Hazlehurst) he meets in a cemetery.
Why? Don’t ask, it’s really not explained.
The long and short of it is that on every wedding anniversary, he spends the day with his wife and then jumps ahead to the next year, not knowing what happened during the 364 days in between.
As magical, life-lesson-teaching curses go, it’s not bad. However, this narrative trick winds up painting Lawson into a repetitive corner that prevents the film from ever generating a sense of forward momentum.
Instead, we are subjected to far too many scenes of Teddy spluttering around trying to figure out what’s going on. Just as soon as he realizes his marriage is falling apart three years in, he leaps forward a year to find himself living with his ex (Dena Kaplan) or discovering that his best friend (Ronny Chieng) is seriously ill.
Teddy is only able to figure out what’s going on by stammering about and asking obvious questions, which then require his wife and friends to fill him in with awkward exposition dumps.
I can’t remember a film that featured so many scenes of characters explaining events we — and Teddy, of course — haven’t been privy to. This results in a predictable structure that wears out its welcome 40 minutes in.
While it would be unfair to lay the failure of the film at Spall’s feet, his approach to Teddy consists of one miscalculation after another.
Lacking the deft touch of Cary Grant or the affable awkwardness of Hugh Grant, the actor tries desperately to bring a sense of charm to his character and fails at every turn.
Mistaking rapid talking with witty repartee, Spall hurries through his dialogue, which affects the comic timing of his co-stars while ruining the flow of each scene.
Equally troubling is that this approach does not endear us to Teddy. He comes off as self-centered and insincere, the concerns of others nothing but a constant source of annoyance.
As a result, Teddy’s ultimate transformation from selfish guy to reliable husband rings hollow. We never get a sense that such a person exists beneath the immature man we’ve come to know.
Ironically, “Short” winds up effectively driving home its theme, but not in the way Lawson intended. The overarching message is that time is precious and should not be wasted. And yet, while watching the film, you’ll likely start thinking about better ways you could be spending your time.