Girl meets creepy boy in off-putting rom-com ‘Love Again’

Man exploits a texting glitch to deceive a grieving widow, and all with the help of Celine Dion.

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The romance of Rob (Sam Heughan) and Mira (Priyanka Chopra Jonas) lacks spark in “Love Again.”

Screen Gems

Blocked and Reported as Ludicrous Froth.

I’m not going to say the ridiculous and off-putting romantic text-message dramedy “Love Again” is the worst movie of the year, but it might be the most implausible film I’ve seen so far in 2023, and I’m not necessarily excluding “The Super Mario Bros. Movie,” “Cocaine Bear” and “65” from the competition.

This is one of those movies that never eschews the opportunity to embrace a rom-com cliché, even as it asks us to empathize with a male lead who behaves in such a selfish, immature and borderline cruel manner that we’re kind of rooting for a bus every time this guy crosses the street. I mean, not really, but at the very least he should be sent to Rom-Com Jail for being the worst.

‘Love Again’

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Screen Gems presents a film written and directed by Jim Strouse. Rated PG-13 (for some sexual material and some strong language). Running time: 105 minutes. Now showing at local theaters.

“Love Again” a remake of the German film “SMS für Dich (SMS for You),” which was based on a 2009 novel by Sofie Cramer, kicks off with Priyanka Chopra Jonas’ Mira at a coffee shop, where she cuddles and kisses and coos and is lost in love with her dreamy boyfriend John (Arinzé Kene)—who then proceeds to walk outside and get run over by a drunk driver right in front of Mira’s eyes (but not ours, thanks be the tastemakers), I kid you not. Just like that, John is dead dead dead.

We flash forward the obligatory two years, with Mira just starting to get back on her feet, with the encouragement of her sassy, energetic, bright-light younger sister Suzy (Sofia Barclay). We have no idea what Suzy does or what her life is about, because she exists in this movie for the sole purpose of supporting Mira, encouraging Mira, cheering on Mira.

Now let’s meet Rob Burns (Sam Heughan from “Outlander”), who looks a bit like Tom Brady and works as a music critic at the New York Chronicle, which apparently is a newspaper, though the newsroom looks more like the home base of a trendy and quite successful tech start-up. At times there appear to be only a handful of people working there, including Rob’s colleagues Billy (Russell Tovey) and Lisa (Lydia West), who, like Suzy, are just in this movie to comment on Rob’s life and cheer him on, what with Rob having been dumped just before he was to be married.

Mira, who writes successful children’s books about a caterpillar who refuses to leave the cocoon and doesn’t want to become a butterfly (just like Mira!), begins texting her dead boyfriend John’s old number every night, telling him about her day but mostly writing poetic tributes to their love. But get this: Rob has just been given a new work phone, and he has … John’s old number! Not only that, when Rob interviews Celine Dion (played by Celine Dion), it turns into a therapy session in which Celine talks about the loss of her husband and encourages Rob to pursue a connection with whoever this Mira person might be. Rob Googles Mira, and it takes only a few clicks for him to learn about her dead boyfriend, and realize Mira is sending those texts to her lost love.

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Celine Dion plays Celine Dion, encouraging Rob’s duplicity.

Screen Gems

Now then. What is the only reasonable, rational, sensible, kind thing to do? That’s right: Rob should text Mira and let her know John’s old number has been reassigned to him, and he wishes her the best, and that would be that. But nooooooooo! Rob rationalizes to his friends that he can’t text Mira because he doesn’t want to embarrass her, and he proceeds to court her, woo her, charm her and go to bed with her, all without revealing what he knows. If that’s not bad enough, he persuades Celine Dion to meet with Mira and hire her to design Celine’s tour poster, so now Celine is in on the ruse! WHAT.

You can probably guess the next series of developments, and let’s just say those guesses wouldn’t be far off. “Love Again” plays out like some ungainly melding of “You’ve Got Mail” and the Gwyneth Paltrow-Ben Affleck plane crash movie “Bounce,” but using only the parts from those fine films that didn’t work. Priyanka Chopra Jonas remains a luminous onscreen presence and her Mira is lovely and likable, but there’s a distinct lack of a spark in the romance with Sam Heughan, who’s about as exciting as two slices of white bread just before they pop from the toaster. Then again, it’s not really Heughan’s fault he’s saddled with playing a brooding nincompoop who’s very much a bounder.

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