Who's in It:
Billy Crudup, Mandy Moore, Tom Wilkinson, Bob Balaban, Martin Freeman, Bobby Cannavale, Amy Sedaris, Christine Taylor
The Basics: Crudup plays a children's book author so misanthropic that he enjoys telling kids he meets that there's no Santa; plus, he tries to convince the audience that he means it when he calls Moore's character "unattractive and pathetic," even though he's secretly falling for her. The plot is about the pair (she's half a goth herself, all pouty hair-in-the-face and black eyeliner) having to collaborate on a kid's-book deadline or lose a lot of money. So it's like Music and Lyrics for really hateful people.
What's the Deal? You can tart up a conventional boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl-again romantic comedy in neurosis, anger, grubby clothes and bitterness, but that doesn't make it any less of a conventional romantic comedy. On the other hand, they don't usually make conventional romantic comedies that are tarted up this way at all, so it's not the worst thing in the world for there to be one out there for really cranky people who hate kids and listen to noisy bands. As for the comedy part, you sort of have to be the kind of person for whom scathing insults that have no punch line are inherently funny. Otherwise, you're just going to be annoyed and wind up wanting to punch Crudup in the nose.
My Dream Third Act: Is really a fourth act. You already know going in to a movie like this that they hook up at the end. It's practically a law of cinema. What I want to see is the part after the credits where they realize, "Oh, wait, we really are too different and he really is too much of a jerk and she really is too self-defeating to make this work." Not enough movies show you how to go through that.
The Mysterious and Magical Likeability of Mandy Moore: I don't know what it is about her, but she keeps you not-hating her even when she's in borderline irritating films like this and outright hideous films like Because I Said So. Again, it's something I'm just getting a handle on, because I've seen just about everything she's been in, and I can't say I wholeheartedly liked any of them. But her? She seems very nice.
What's Better Than the Film Itself: The song score by the band Deerhoof is exactly what it's supposed to be a counterpoint to Crudup's basket-case persona. There are also contributions from Lightning Bolt and Cat Power. I like this stuff better than the songs in Once, if I'm being honest.