[Screen It]


(2022) (Freida Pinto, Zawe Ashton) (PG)

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Romantic Comedy: Facing social ridicule and gossip after the city's most eligible bachelor passes on her for not meeting the requirements of his future spouse list, a 19th-century London socialite convinces her childhood friend to help her get revenge on him.

Eighteen years after meeting as girls at an early 19th-century ladies academy, Selina Dalton (FREIDA PINTO) lives in the English country, newly unemployed due to her elderly charge having died. Despite her situation, she is not looking for a husband.

Julia Thistlewaite (ZAWE ASHTON) lives in London with her mom and cousin, Lord Cassidy (OLIVER JACKSON-COHEN), and is looking for a husband, and has set her sights -- along with nearly every other single lady -- on the city's most eligible bachelor, John Malcolm (SOPE DIRISU).

But a trip to the opera with him goes badly and soon gossip spreads that she's doomed to be a spinster due to him allegedly spurning her affections, although that's far from the truth. Instead, Lord Cassidy learns that John has a list of requirements that any possible future spouse must meet.

Infuriated by that and having her reputation tarnished, Julia invites Selina to visit her with a plan of revenge where she'll fake meeting all of his requirements, only to then have him fail her own list. She reluctantly goes along, but is more interested in meeting her former employer's nephew, Captain Henry Ossory (THEO JAMES), who also happens to know John.

Nonetheless, John is smitten with Selina as she passes his list of requirements, and she starts to fall for him despite that list. Of course, the truth will eventually be revealed, thus threatening to nip any budding romance in the bud.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10

Let's face it, not everyone in the world is likable. In fact, a fair amount are downright despicable, although they and others often argue that they're simply misunderstood and their behavior is masking some sort of insecurity, childhood trauma, or what have you. Nonetheless, others currently have or previously gone through the same and somehow manage to be nice and enjoyable to spend time with.

When it comes to characters in movies, there are obviously good and bad ones, and those who are amiable and others who are not. That's true in pretty much every genre, but it's definitely important that those in romantic comedies -- at least the ones we're supposed to be rooting for to get together -- have a greater number of pleasant qualities than unpleasant ones.

Otherwise, what's the point as -- just like in real life -- you don't want to waste two hours or so of your life cheering on someone hooking up with a person who's clearly wrong for them. Such is the huge issue in "Mr. Malcolm's List," a period set rom-com where the object of every single woman's eye is the title character (Sope Dirisu) who's noted as London's most eligible and coveted bachelor.

We first see him on a date of sorts where he accompanies Julia Thistlewaite (Zawe Ashton) to the opera, an act that has other women in attendance closely observing the body language between the two and noting that things quite obviously aren't going well. And that's because Julia clearly isn't the sharpest tool or brightest bulb in the shed, something that John can't help but notice, although he's distantly polite in his reaction to this obviously not being spousal material.

And that's because he has a very set list of qualifications for that position, something Julia's cousin, Lord Cassidy (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), discovers and reports back to her. Infuriated upon learning this after gossip and a related cartoon of the date gone wrong has turned her into a social pariah and future single old maid, Julia decides to get her revenge.

So, she calls a friend, Selina Dalton (Freida Pinto), who she met when they were kids at a ladies academy and has been pen pals with ever since, and invites her for a visit. Selina isn't looking or in need of a husband, but reluctantly agrees to Julia's plan where Selina will fake meeting every one of Malcolm's list requirements, only to drop her own set on him and thus humiliate him when he doesn't pass muster.

As that plays out, she and we learn that the title character is pretty much a conceited jerk and thus begin to root for him to get his comeuppance. Throw in the arrival of a man, Captain Henry Ossory (Theo James), who seems perfect for Selina and things seem to be headed in the right direction in creating an entertaining rom-com diversion. But then, quite inexplicably, Selina starts falling for the bad guy and everything falls apart.

Throw in a clunky storyline -- courtesy of Suzanne Allain who adapts her novel of the same name -- and sometimes forced direction by Emma Holly Jones -- and the film ends up derailing, especially as it follows the usual rom-com trajectory -- including the late in the third act falling out between the two "lovebirds." Had some twist been applied at the end to explain how and why things play out the way they do, then I could have accepted what's otherwise quite unbelievable and not worthy of rooting for.

As it stands, "Mr. Malcolm's List" checks off many of the requirements of the period rom-com, but the big one it misses is creating the right pairing of likable characters to engage and make us care. I didn't, and thus the film rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed June 23, 2022 / Posted July 1, 2022

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