Now that the boys’ club has stormed the romantic comedy genre, it’s tough being a female heroine. The current template for the would-be brides is Brittle Carole Lombard: frantic, beautiful, and clumsy, with the sense of humor of a crocodile pump. Claudette Colbert and Katherine Hepburn got to wear posh dresses and outsmart their suitors; today’s workingwoman drone thinks she has it all until a charismatic blue-collar lug gets her drunk on tequila and/or knocked up.
And so into the breach of director Griffin Dunn’s bog goes Uma Thurman, who at 38 makes a weary ingénue—though her Dr. Emma Lloyd, a love advice radio host whose credentials may be as apocryphal as Dr. Phil’s, is precisely the kind of cautious lover to wait a decade past the average age of marriage. Her new book R.E.A.L. Love (acronym for a man who’s Responsible, Equal, Adult, and Loving) is so certain of its path to what Jane Austen would consider well-matched bliss that Emma’s engaged to marry her publisher, a stiff Brit named Richard (Colin Firth).
Of course he’s the wrong guy. The “right” one is a NYPD fireman (still our post-9/11 dream hunk) slapped with the pub-crawling name of Patrick Sullivan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Morgan is bearish and honey-sweet; he’d be at home in sitcoms patting his wife on the ass and begging for a grilled cheese. Still, he’s got charm to spare, once he gets over his enmity of Dr. Lloyd for encouraging his ex-fiancée Sophia (Justina Machado) to dump the mofo already. (Their meet-cute comes when Sullivan’s tech nerd buddy hacks into city files to register the pair as husband and wife, the better to have the blonde at his mercy.) As Dunn allows Thurman only one dewy scene before she morphs into a shrew with a bruise on her forehead and hair frizzed like lightening (her over-processed locks are a Geiger counter for each scene’s hysteria), the question isn’t why him but why her? The dreary flick’s three gender-betraying female writers Mimi Hare, Clare Naylor, and Bonnie Sikowitz, novices each, take Uma’s odd-duck gorgeousness as a given, over-estimating the value of beauty and under-valuing everything else. The Accidental Husband suffers doubly from Dunn’s hagification of his star, but at this point the flick’s desperate floundering feels like dessert. The plot points tick by with the usual blend of over-determined mirth and begrudging satisfaction, but there’s little fun in being asked to identify with yet another female character who spends her running time being shamed like a dog who soiled the rug.