Reviewby Carlo Santos, Mar 24th 2008
Lovely Complex the Movie
Risa Koizumi is unusually tall for a girl her age. Atsushi Otani is unusually short for a boy. Together, they're an unlikely duo whose back-and-forth bickering has earned them the nickname of "All Hanshin Kyojin" (a popular comedy duo) at school. What's even more unlikely, however, is that Risa finds herself falling in love with Otani—sure, they have a lot in common, but how could anyone take them seriously as a couple? And even if Risa does confess her feelings, would thick-headed Otani get the message? It might take their entire high school careers to finally get together—but Risa is determined to overcome the height difference no matter what.
Attention Lovely Complex purists: if you were expecting an exact adaptation of the manga, bail out now before you get disappointed. Such is the way of comic-book movies, where serialized works of fiction must somehow be turned into self-contained stories with a beginning, middle, and end. To achieve this goal, the film happily deletes characters from the original, throws in new ones, pares down the plot, and re-arranges key events to fit the timeframe. The end result is a campy but lively romp through high school romance, punctuated with Kansai dialect and filmed in primary colors. If nothing else, it's a highly entertaining portrayal of the complexities of love.
The movie wastes no time in introducing the lead characters—their height problems are explained through narration and flashback, and from there it moves straight to a classroom scene where we get to see their personalities in action. Ema Fujisawa's portrayal of Risa is dead-on with the rubber facial expressions and fiery attitude, even if her acting inexperience does show from time to time. In the later scenes, though, she moves effortlessly from comedy to drama with some touching displays of vulnerability. Meanwhile, Teppei Koike takes on the role of Otani, rattling off some good one-liners but generally taking a drier approach—his thick-headedness is not nearly as pronounced as fans may have hoped for, and he comes off as more of a regular guy who's just slow to realize his feelings.
As the story reaches its middle stages, the flaws become more apparent. Risa never seems to struggle over her height complex versus her feelings for Otani, and simply switches to fully-in-love mode at some point; furthermore, the process of winning Otani's heart seems to be nothing more than waiting for him to get the message. Is this what passes for character development? Meanwhile, the supporting cast has little impact on the plot, merely serving as the voices of conscience for the two leads. A couple of comic-relief characters also emerge with mixed results: Risa's self-absorbed big sister is mildly amusing, but the hairstyle-challenged English teacher is just a waste of time who hams up every scene. It's also in the middle stages that the plot starts to feel like a recitation of scenes from the manga (Hey! Here's the concert they went to! Here's the fireworks scene! And here's the school trip!) that are supposed to somehow lead to the main couple falling in love.
Fortunately, the actual falling-in-love part turns out to be pretty exciting, thanks to the arrival of "Maity," the bishounen substitute teacher. Not only does the movie nail Maity's over-the-top gallantry (complete with special effects), but his role in bringing Risa and Otani together helps the story reach a satisfying conclusion. Clearly, the final act is where the plot goes off in its own direction, but it's a direction most viewers will be happy with: an epic basketball match, a change of heart, and a tying of loose ends that is as cute and heartwarming as anything else in the movie.
The presentation and visual style of Love*Com puts a strong emphasis on broad physical comedy, and from time to time it does overstep the line between entertaining and just plain ridiculous. Taking a cue from Japanese variety shows, the film isn't afraid to throw brightly colored graphics and text on screen, as well as making frantic cuts and comedic asides. For added authenticity, the actual All Hanshin Kyojin duo makes an appearance, plus another comedy act, Nankai Candies. Obviously, this style isn't for everyone—what some may find entertaining, others will see as a big overacted mess. But between the busy cinematography and wild color palette (the Maity Fan Club cheer sequence is an absolute triumph), there are also some wonderfully poignant scenes—the glittering lights of Christmas, for example, or the subdued afternoon glow of the last scene before the credits. This same balance of lightheartedness and drama can be found in the soundtrack, which alternates between punky J-pop hits and gentle instrumental pieces.
The final layer of polish for this DVD is, of course, the translation into English, and the subtitles come out just fine (even though they use yet another translation of Otani's nickname for Risa, adding "beanstalk" to a thesaurus that already includes "Amazon" and "jumbo gal"). However, there are occasional spots of narration in broken English that really should have been subtitled—the pronounciation is bad enough that you might as well just guess what the narrator is saying while watching Japanese subtitles flit across the screen. Aside from the movie itself, the disc also comes with a decent set of extras—there's a collection of comedy shorts where the secondary characters get to be in the spotlight, as well as a bizarre music video starring Risa and Otani's favorite idiosyncratic rapper, Umibozu. Even the trailers for the movie come in a number of entertaining varieties.
Although it's a bit rough around the edges, this movie is cute and funny enough that it should please most viewers looking for a lighthearted love story. The development of Risa and Otani's feelings isn't quite convincing enough, and the over-the-top gags might be seen as bad acting, but this is a story with its heart in the right place—as shown by the lively, feel-good attitude and a moving finale. With a likeable girl-next-door in the lead role and a story that bounces between wild comedy and heartfelt confessions, this tale about "the long and short of love" is definitely worth a look.
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C+
Art : B
Music : B
+ Vibrant mood and a likable main character make this a highly appealing film, and it also strikes the right tone of seriousness when it needs to.
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