The predictable rom-com ‘Surprise Me!’ is incorrectly named
Written and directed by: Nancy Goodman
Starring: Fiona Gubelmann, Jonathan Bennett, Sean Faris, and LaShawn Banks
“Surprise Me!” – Genie Burns (Fiona Gubelmann) has it all! A great job, terrific friends, a loving mom and stepfather, her health, and the perfect man. Actually, scratch the last mention. Genie’s single, but she’s waiting for the right guy to come along, and she declares to her friend Danny (Jonathan Bennett) while eating breakfast, “I want the whole plate.”
Don’t we all, and please include the garnish, some Tabasco and a full jar of ketchup.
Speaking of food, one day while Genie strolls through a Whole Foods-like grocery store, that mass produces its own sunshine and hands out kittens at the checkout lines, a random guy flirts with her. Jeff (Sean Faris) - who best resembles a brunette version of Cobra Kai’s Johnny (William Zabka) from “The Karate Kid” (1984) – takes an immediate liking to this perky, positive and together lady, who also owns Surprise Enterprise, an event-planning company that specializes in throwing parties.
Well, surprise! Despite Jeff’s creepy, player vibes - that anyone with 20/100 vision and three out of the five senses can clearly recognize - Genie falls for him anyway, and (spoiler alert), by the 35-minute mark, this mismatched couple exchange those three little words.
Writer/director Nancy Goodman follows Genie’s torturous, train-wreck trek, as her relationship quickly turns sour, and she tries to make it work. Unfortunately, Jeff does not seem to care about Genie’s well-being, so she hashes out her problems with her on-screen support system. Ah, if only the movie audience could be spared from this familiar rom-com theme, as this – otherwise - strong woman pines for a manipulative, callous jerk.
Genie pulls in Danny, her friend Lori (Robyn Coffin), and business partner Steven (LaShawn Banks) to help sort out her skewed perspective. She has plenty of time, because apparently in this utopian universe - during a warm, picturesque summer in Chicago - no one really seems to work. Sure, Genie throws a couple surprise parties in the first act - and she sort of manages a massive wedding for a wealthy client - but her plastic surgeon boyfriend Jeff, her attorney best friend Danny and she seem to spend all their waking moments riding bikes, enjoying amusement parks and shuttling between lofts and suburban McMansions.
All these bright, pristine mechanics might feel like a typical Disney Channel sitcom, but the aforementioned small screen programs don’t have Attention Deficit Disorder, like this production.
In some ways, “Surprise Me!” feels like Tommy Wiseau’s “The Room” (2003), where random ideas and events suddenly appear out of nowhere, have little connective tissue to the previous scenes and serve no distinct purpose other than to fill some imagined, screen time quota.
- For instance, Genie still stings from her father death from decades ago, and the film even flashes back to her youth, but this thread never really ties to anything in present-day, and the idea eventually disappears as mysteriously as it was introduced.
- Lori takes Genie to a paintball tournament, and the ladies hide behind a car and attempt to dodge paint projectiles for an entire 12 seconds. Again, their entire on-screen paintball experience lasts just 12 seconds, and in the very next scene, Genie casually rides her bike in a beautiful park. Did she bring her bike to paintball?
- On top of all this unneeded drama, she also develops a food-binging disorder that calls for a therapist to intervene. Don’t worry though, the screenplay’s tone seems to take none of this seriously, as a maniacal therapist – like Melissa McCarthy with an acute case of Turrets but zero comedic gifts – screams advice at her.
Well, you might not scream at the big screen during a “Surprise Me!”-trip to the theatres, but don’t be surprised if your inside voice wishes for a much better movie.
Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008, graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and is a certified Rotten Tomatoes critic. Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively