Think When Harry, Harry And Harry Met Sally. Think Sleepless In London. Because the snappily monickered (or the worst film title ever) Martha - - Meet Frank, Daniel and Laurence is an unashamed rom-com - and a British film. Plus, according to the Channel Four hype machine gone into overdrive, it's the best Brit flick since oooh... probably Four Weddings And A Funeral (yes, The Full Monty was great but it's hardly a classic).
Ultimately, this smart comedy is not quite in the same league, but there is some logic in being semi-excited by it. For Martha Meet... boasts five hugely engaging performances and a tightly-scripted and clever keep-you-guessing-'til-the-end, jumping-backwards-and-forwards-in-time plot, all doused with a smattering of sassy Brit humour.
It's ostensibly a tale of fate and love at first sight: Frank (Rufus Sewell) is an unemployed actor, perpetually involved in a game of one-upmanship with Daniel (Tom Hollander) a rich, flashy music executive. Between them is Laurence (Joseph Fiennes, younger brother of Ralph), a bridge teacher and long-suffering peacekeeper and middleman. Then enter the kooky, cute, really down-on-her-luck Martha (a delightful Monica Potter), who amazingly possesses nearly all the mannerisms, smile and charm of a Pretty Woman-era Julia Roberts.
This cast of four flit breezily around neatly photographed London locations as diverse as airports, art galleries, coffee shops, parks, hotel rooms and the blokes' houses. The action also includes a fifth protagonist (Ray Winstone), although his involvement as a psychiatrist is really a device to keep the plot together.
There are some delightful moments to savour, as the boys and girl lurch between ecstasy and despair, embroiled in their own increasingly frantic cat-and-mouse activities. Laurence and Martha do a "no, my life is worse than yours" sketch (reminiscent of Dreyfuss and Shaw comparing wounds in Jaws), while a first nearly-kiss between the girl and one of the boys is as restrained and touching a scene as you might ever hope to see.
It all works beautifully - up to a point. There is, however, not nearly enough genuine humour on offer and the characters are too one-and-a-half dimensional. But the ending, while a touch low-key, remains immensely satisfying, and the film as a whole hits the button marked "feelgood" with an invigorating punch.
A mostly charming, coincidence-driven love yarn, thankfully devoid of the cloying schmaltz Hollywood films like this tend to drown in. It'll probably be a big hit, but needs a little more rom and com to ignite that Monty-esque word of mouth must-see status.
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