She's Out of My League
- Directed by Jim Field Smith
- Written by Sean Anders and John Morris
- Starring Jay Baruchel and Alice Eve
- Classification: 14A
You don't need to root for the best movies and you don't want to root for the worst. But, occasionally, along comes a picture so nearly good that you dearly wish it were better. Welcome to She's Out of My League, where the rooting interest is strong but so is the frustration. You keep pulling for it, even when it pushes you away.
Its beauty-and-the-beast premise has certainly been around the block. Nerdy guys bumbling into hot girls (sometimes the reverse) are a regular item in teen and twentysomething fare. Here, nerdy Kirk and his Brillo-pad do (Jay Baruchel) toil in airport security at the Pittsburgh terminal. Unable to attend college ("My Dad built a swimming pool instead"), he took the job fresh out of high school and, by now, his expectations are about as high as those grounded planes. Kirk has comfortably settled into his bottom-rung status - an ex-girlfriend dumps him, c'est la vie in his world of diminishing returns.
When the gorgeous Molly (Alice Eve) shows up at his security gate, male heads from 8 to 80 spin to catch a glimpse. Fate and a forgotten cellphone conspire to bring Kirk into her orbit, whereupon the unthinkable happens. The beauty takes a genuine shine to the nerd. Says one of his buddies, part of the genre's usual men's chorus, "It feels like the universe is out of whack."
It feels that way to Kirk too, and here's where the script takes an intriguing turn: He can neither believe nor quite accept his luck. In his nasal, breathy delivery, Baruchel plays that confusion with admirable restraint, keeping the character comic but on the safe side of farce. So when, after a dinner date, Molly leans over to plant a kiss, he can't help himself from blurting out a grateful, "Thank you." Alas, when that kiss escalates, he can't help himself again, too suddenly becoming an embarrassed victim of "the early-bird special" - the problem may be premature but that euphemism is hilariously grown-up. Of course, complications ensue, as do apologies.
There follows the standard rom-com journey - the build-up, the break-up, the make-up. Equally familiar is the set-piece format, the big scenes, that see us through the trip - in this case, tickets to a Penguins hockey game; a restaurant visit where he keeps getting mistaken for the waiter; the meet-the-dumb-ass family tableau; and the guys' version of the bikini-wax session, "male prepping" for the evening's climax. Some of this is amusing, but the rest isn't quite as funny as it should be. Almost, yet not quite. In his feature debut, director Jim Field Smith flashes some talent, adroitly wrangling his large cast and zeroing in on their particular idiosyncrasies. But just when the payoff seems certain, these scenes come up a dollar short - you don't feel cheated exactly, just mildly disappointed.
Still, there are compensations, in Baruchel's performance and in Eve's too (now that's an ingenue's name). She's a Brit who does really good American, and thaws any hint of ice from her blond dolly, making Molly sweet but never saccharine, bright but not light. Even the supporting roles are worth a second look. Like Kirk's ex-girlfriend Marnie, the kind of woman who takes her temperature from her surroundings - she's "hot" until Molly arrives, when her thermostat plummets along with her confidence.
And then there's a kind of man rarely seen in the movies. A member of the buddy chorus, Devon (Nate Torrence) is the chubby loser who isn't. No, he's a bona fide winner - truly kind, happily married, relatively secure and un-foul of mouth. We've all met Devon in fact, but it's a pleasure to see him in fiction, at home on the big screen. He's not the guy who ranks people on that tired numerical scale, awarding Kirk a "5 at best" and Molly "a hard 10." He would, however, be a gentle critic, dipping into his bucket of stars and giving even a flawed flick like She's Out of My League an "easy 3." Me, I couldn't possibly be so generous.