Maybe a misanthropic dentist was an unusual choice for the protagonist in an American romantic comedy. In fact, maybe a fat, middle-aged British comic is not be the ideal casting choice. But Ricky Gervais somehow makes it work.
I’m aware that Gervais is a bit like Marmite, so I’ll admit from the outset that I’m a fan. However, it is important to point out that he didn’t write the film, so the humour is less cringeworthy than that in The Office or Extras: when watching it I did not feel the desire to crawl from the screening room, just to stop the pain.
From the moment it becomes clear that Bertram Pincus (the unlikely name of the dentist) is going to attempt to woo ghost Greg Kinnear’s former wife (Tea Leoni) it is easy to see how the film is going to tackle the romantic part of its brief. But what of the comedy?
Most of it derives from the situation- the idea that Leoni’s character would go for Gervais’ is fairly laughable in itself. In the typical American fashion, she is far too pretty to be in his league, but not so much so that it is impossible to suspend disbelief. Although it is definitely the dead-pan delivery of Gervais that drives the film, the rest of the cast are also able.
Kinnear is endearing in a worn-out way and Leoni is charming as the love interest. A very pleasant surprise for me was the fact that Gervais can actually act. Although the characterisation is not what it could be, I found myself really rooting (or perhaps, root-canaling(!)) for Pincus.
If there was one thing that would make me give this romcom one less star, it would be the patchy dialogue. Most of it is sharp and witty, but it occasionally lapses into the kind of mushy sentimentalism that underlies my normal refusal to touch a romantic comedy with a bargepole.
However, the film just about manages to avoid sinking into the quagmire of chick-flick (and, thank God, there are no sex scenes) and performs (though only just) the difficult task of making cheesiness its own. My heart was warmed, against my will.
All in all, this film is certainly worth watching. Grin and bear the occasional gaffes in the script and you will come out of the cinema feeling happier than when you went in. If you’re a stressed Oxford student, what more can you ask of a comedy than that?