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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 



Playing it Cool, Review: He’s in love, she has a lover

Playing it Cool

Justin Reardon’s debut film Convention started in 2011, but has yet to reach cinemas. His second effort, A Many Splintered Thing, began shooting in 2012, and we now have it released as Playing It Cool. If I were to choose between the two titles, I would find A Many Splintered Thing more interesting and cool, in spite of the obvious pun on Splendoured. Incidentally, the splintered line is actually used in the film. Playing it Cool is a drab title.

Chris Evans’ character goes only by “Me,” a young man disillusioned by love, who meets a woman, known only as “Her” (Michelle Monaghan), at a charity dinner, while pretending to be a philanthropist. He is a movie script-writer who wants to do action films, but gets assigned instead, by his boss Bryan (Anthony Mackie), to write a script for a romantic comedy first, because there is a ready producer and the starring couple is on board too. Since he hasn't really been in love, he has a hard time even starting writing the script. That is, until one day, he meets "Her". She is the ideal girl of his dreams. Only one problem: she’s going steady and is about to be engaged. Nevertheless, he embarks on a platonic relationship, to be able to keep seeing her. Like a young Walter Mitty, using the power of imagination and wild vignettes, “Me” will stop at nothing to conquer “Her” heart. Along the way, he gets support from his friends-circle of Mallory (Aubrey Plaza), Scott (Topher Grace), Lyle (Martin Starr), Stuffy (Ioan Gruffud) and more.

Writers Chris Shafer and Paul Vicknair won favour with Chris Evans with their work on the Evans starred, directed and produced Before We Go (2014). Among the Cool jokes that will be remembered is a man telling Scott that his favourite romantic film is Terminator, and not Titanic, though both were made by the same team, and Scott’s disbelief at the statement. However, there are too many co-incidences for comfort and the climax is straight out of some formula Hindi film of the 60s, 70s and 80s. The idea of a friends’ circle as support group is not new, but the members have been well-defined. Their hobbies being amateur shooting and bowling provide off-beat tracks for a scenario of witty and frank exchanges. Scott being gay is introduced with due subtlety.

This is a welcome departure for Evans (Avengers: Age of Ultron, Captain America: The Winter Soldier). He seems to be at home, with all his day-dreaming and unflinching love for the woman who he met at a chance encounter. You feel for him as the odds keep on decreasing and then increasing, in his attempts to follow that dream. Michelle Monaghan comes across as a head-strong woman who rarely lets her guard drop. Her slightly weather-beaten face adds a dimension to the personality. Aubrey Plaza keeps in character throughout the film, and you genuinely feel for her when she reveals the obvious. Topher Grace makes a compact, gay Scott. Martin Starr and Ioan Gruffud are competent too.

Justin Reardon, who has made commercials for Budweiser and the hilarious short, Zoltan: The Hungarian Gangster of Love, has obviously gone through the grind before his feature work could come before audiences. It is not a bad start. If you ignore the clichés and co-incidences as occupational hazards and cinematic licenses, in a film of this kind, and some grafted influences of Woody Allen, the sailing is reasonable smooth. Playing it Cool is a romantic comedy with a bunch of heart-tugging moments.

Rating: **1/2

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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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