While Netflix might be credited with the resurrection of the romantic comedy after their successfully marketed Summer of Love lineup back in 2018, in a twist of cruel irony the better examples of the genre have mostly been found elsewhere ever since. Sparky wedding romcom Plus One and queer Christmas comedy Happiest Season both ended up on Hulu, Universal released crowd-pleasing charmers Bros and Ticket to Paradise recently in cinemas, and Amazon found mileage in yet another Groundhog Day riff with teen-led The Map of Tiny Perfect Things. The latter streamer might have stumbled with last week’s limp Britcom Your Christmas or Mine? but there’s a far more winning assemblage of festive farce and feelings in this week’s Something from Tiffany’s, an unusually glossy December confection from producer Reese Witherspoon, in stark comparison to the Hallmark-adjacent junk that its competitor continues to churn out.
While the genre is now that much more populated once again, too many of the more recent examples have been marred by either a reticence to really lean into the formula without smugly denigrating it or, when leaning, an incompetence to do anything more than provide a weak trace over what’s come before, simply doing the rom and the com but rarely doing it well. While Something from Tiffany’s is unlikely to rise to the higher regions of any genre fan’s best-of list (it’s too frothy to even rise to the middle), there’s something engagingly earnest about its relative lack of meta self-awareness and robust attempts to look and feel like the studio meet-cutes so many of us were raised on.
From the swoony, hard-to-resist soundtrack that zips from Julie London to Etta James to the Temptations to the handsome leads wearing handsome outfits in handsome locations, it’s one of the more convincingly dressed examples we’ve seen for a while. The plot revolves around a classic case of romcom confusion as two men buy two very different gifts at Tiffany’s in New York.
There’s Gary (Ray Nicholson, son of Jack) buying a pair of earrings for his restaurateur girlfriend, Rachel (Zoey Deutch, daughter of Lea Thompson), to celebrate their anniversary as she prepares an elaborate dinner at home. Then there’s Ethan (Insecure’s Kendrick Sampson), who is getting advice from his daughter Daisy (Beast’s Leah Jeffries) on what engagement ring to get for girlfriend, Vanessa (Pretty Little Liars alum Shay Mitchell). But when Gary is hit by a car and Ethan tries to help, their bags get mixed up, leading to some low-stakes chaos and then tentative sparks between Rachel and Ethan.
Even though the book it was based on, from Irish author Melissa Hill, is also set around the holidays, the Christmas of it all ends up as mostly superfluous here, more of a “wouldn’t that feel nice?” setting than anything that’s weaved into the plot. The answer to that question, though, is a big yes, with festive shots of an airbrushed in-season New York reminding us of what so many shot-in-Vancouver fake-outs fail to deliver. Director Daryl Wein, who has cursed us with two of the most grating comedies of the last 10 years (the risible Greta Gerwig vehicle Lola Versus and the unbearable LA hipster caper How It Ends) finds his footing more comfortably here, easily emulating the comforting sheen of an expensive Meg Ryan- or Julia Roberts-led vehicle from decades prior.
The script, from Tamara Chestna (who also wrote Amy Poehler’s underrated directorial debut, Moxie), is a little less assured. The back-and-forth banter, which should give us an easy pitter-patter, too often feels lacking, as if it’s in need of an extra punch-up from a sharper sitcom writer to really fly. This is especially noticeable in the earlier scenes between Deutch and her queer BFF, played by Jojo T Gibbs, perfecting the art of the involved bestie after this and Fresh, although hopefully she can graduate to top billing soon. Chestna’s characterisation relies too heavily on cutesy quirks (Deutch is scared of tying bows! And also speaks to food while she’s cooking it!) and flat-out nonsense (Sampson gets sad at the sight of bread because his dead wife liked bread!) rather than anything with more depth or texture. There’s still been a dearth of leading romcom roles for people of colour despite the recent boom, especially for black performers. William Jackson Harper’s excellent and insightful season of Love Life was a small-screen step in the right direction but watching Sampson play a romantic lead in a slick mainstream movie, without race needing to be an issue, still feels strangely unusual. He’s a natural in such territory, easy charm radiating, and even as the script contorts itself into variously silly situations, he remains calm and grounded.
A great deal of our desire in wanting the leads to get and then stay together here is based less on what they’re being given and more on what they’re giving us, two charming actors making the best of material that would crumble without them. But in a season of oversaturation for both Christmas and romantic comedies, there’s something here that feels worth picking up.