I believed I understood Smothered. It is a romantic comedy penned by Monica Heisey, who is known for her work on Schitt’s Creek and Workin’ Moms. Her first novel, Really Good, Actually, was very popular this year, so I assumed that I knew what to expect. I anticipated a biting comedy filled with clever insights into contemporary dating and the unlikelihood of traditional romantic love. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Smothered is also quite heartwarming.
The film is being marketed as a romantic comedy with a unique twist, providing a modern take on an overused genre that is attempting to revitalize itself after a prolonged period of decline. Initial indications suggest that it is successfully achieving this goal. Sammy (played by Danielle Vitalis), a woman in her early twenties, is introduced to us at a sex club where she opens up about her intimacy issues to a stranger she hopes to hook up with. She also leaves lengthy, drunken voice messages for an ex who she has saved in her phone under a disguised name, fluctuating between being kind, angry, and calling him an “iron-deficient prick” – an unexpectedly humorous insult.
Tom, played by Jon Pointing, is 30 years old and has a stable job in an office where he arrives early and eats boiled eggs at his desk. On the surface, he appears to be the mature contrast to Sammy’s chaotic youth, but he struggles to find a partner in traditional ways and is dissatisfied with dating apps. In typical romcom fashion, Sammy and Tom are brought together at a karaoke night and hit it off. As a gimmick, they decide to have a three-week affair that resembles one from the past. Afterward, they will delete each other’s numbers and go their separate ways.
This is what I mean by thinking I had the measure of it. It’s a contrived setup that doesn’t really make a lot of sense, an “insane scheme full of fake rules” that is obviously going to be thwarted by their true feelings for each other. It isn’t quite clear why they would do it, other than so that this particular romcom has its USP. But there is a twist at the end of episode one that throws it into different territory and reveals its true colours. The three-week stunt is short-lived, rather than forming the basis of the whole thing and it quickly dispenses with the faff.
The result is much more pleasant. Every installment is centered around a distinct topic. If the first episode focuses on meeting someone, then the subsequent episodes delve into the logistics of dating, balancing obligations and relationships, when and how to introduce a partner to loved ones, and the contrast between one’s early 20s and early 30s. Conflict arises but is quickly resolved as the characters communicate and resolve their issues just as people do in real life.
This may not be the most enticing description, but this romantic comedy focuses on the practical aspects of love and does not romanticize everyday arguments. However, the true appeal lies in its clever writing and effortless viewing experience. The central couple, Sammy and Tom, represent a modern London lifestyle as they navigate between casual and formal relationships before being forced to confront their circumstances. This ultimately makes the film stand out as a unique take on the genre.
Together with Vitalis and Pointing, who have previously charmed everyone in Big Boys, the cast is solid and includes familiar faces from British and Irish comedy and other places. Aisling Bea plays Gillian, who is launching a restaurant, while Lisa Hammond plays Sammy’s boss and is responsible for the interior design of the project. However, in Smothered’s small world of London, Gillian becomes a bigger part of Sammy’s life than she expected. Other notable appearances include Ellie White from Stath Lets Flats and Rebecca Lucy Taylor (also known as the musician Self Esteem) as one of Sammy’s roommates in a flat with a perpetually broken toilet. Even food critic Jay Rayner makes a cameo appearance, playing himself.
Even without any resistance, it gives off a sense of abundance and confidence, as though the experience of no longer being in your early twenties has imbued it with insight. If this is an example of a romantic comedy with a unique twist, then I am thoroughly enjoying it.