It is common knowledge that the month of January is a dumping ground for motion pictures that studios have little faith in; they are usually not serious or good enough to be end-of-the-year releases, and not big enough in scale to battle it out in the summer. "Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!," the equivalent of 2003's January romantic comedy "Just Married
," only much better, proves to be an exception to this rule. Directed by Robert Luketic (2001's "Legally Blonde
"), the film is a lightweight concoction, predictable from frame one, but its energetic performances, sweet-natured tone, and surprisingly savvy Hollywood-aimed humor carry it painlessly through to the end.
Rosalee Futch (Kate Bosworth) is a 22-year-old supermarket cashier who spends her days hanging out with best friend coworkers Pete (Topher Grace) and Cathy (Ginnifer Goodwin) in their small West Virginia hometown. When she enters a contest to win a date with popular Hollywood actor Tad Hamilton (Josh Duhamel), Rosalee realizes her chances are slim to none. But when she wins, and is suddenly whisked away to Los Angeles to meet her idol, Rosalee's world is turned upside down. Tad, a bad boy looking to find redemption and reclaim his humanity, sees Rosalee as just the person to help him out. Suddenly, Tad has bought a farm in West Virginia and wants very much to be a part of her life. Unbeknownst to Rosalee, her true love has been in front of her the whole time, but Pete has never had the guts to tell her how he feels.
Because the outcome is so easily foreseeable, much like most screen romances, what is important is not where the story ends up, but how it gets there. In the case of "Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!," the bright cast charismatically work off of each other, making the viewer's time spent with them zippy and always likable. They are aided by a snappy screenplay by Victor Levin, which generates satisfying laughs, a number of quotable lines of dialogue, and only a rare instance or two of sappy romantic hokum. A key discussion about a person's number of different smiles, for example, is well-intentioned but admittedly a bit of an eye-roller. Fortunately, it is evened out by some genuinely romantic moments, including a final shot that is ingenious in its conception.
Where the film most notably breaks out of the generic is in its playful satire of both real Hollywood life and a small town's sometimes skewed ideas of what a Hollywood life entails. When Rosalee's caring father (Gary Cole) yearns to win over Tad Hamilton by spouting off the current news stories he's read from "Variety," it is very funny. And when, later, her dad is seen simply wearing a "Project Greenlight" t-shirt, the ongoing joke becomes even more clever and smart because it doesn't feel the need to call attention to itself. Director Robert Luketic trusts his audience to understand the comedy in such situations as these, rather than feeling the need to spoon-feed them down their throats.
Following her work in 2002's "Blue Crush
" and 2003's "Wonderland," Kate Bosworth has become a promising young actress to watch. She is adorable as leading lady Rosalee, which is about all that is really called of her to be, but then goes one step further to really create an intelligent three-dimensional person. As the secretly lovestruck Pete, everything that needs to be said about the character is told through the look in Topher Grace's (2003's "Mona Lisa Smile
") eyes. His role is seemingly undemanding, but Grace makes us believe that he is really in love with Rosalee. And feature film newcomer Josh Duhamel (TV's "Las Vegas") is exceedingly plausible as Hollywood star Tad Hamilton. Kudos to screenwriter Levin for avoiding the often cliched temptation of turning Tad into a snobbish baddie, and creating a real arc for him. In order to win over Rosalee, Tad must tell a lie, but he finally recognizes his mistake and learns from it.
The supporting players are a varied, scene-stealing bunch. Ginnifer Goodwin (2003's "Mona Lisa Smile
") is utterly delightful as Rosalee's peppy best friend, Cathy, bringing both warmth and comic gold to her every moment. Kathryn Hahn (2003's "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days
") also stands out in only a few scenes as Angelica, a wistful bartender who harbors a not-so-secret crush on Pete. And Sean Hayes (2003's "Pieces of April
") is quirkily enjoyable as Tad's manager, deserving credit for once again playing someone who is nothing at all like his famed persona as Jack McFarland on TV's "Will & Grace."
As the first release of 2004, I could think of much worse ways to start the year than "Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!" (such as 2003's uneven "Just Married
," 2002's "Impostor
," 2001's "Sugar & Spice
," and 2000's reprehensible "Next Friday
"). Kate Bosworth and Topher Grace ignite light, but palpable sparks as the romantic leads, and the movie that surrounds them is well-paced and never less than entertaining. "Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!" won't be shaking the world anytime soon, but it has enough freshness and charm to stand out in the midst of the January humdrums.