There’s little false advertising to “Love, Guaranteed,” a romantic comedy about true love and the seemingly overblown promises of online dating. The shared fate of Susan Whitaker and Nick Evans — played by Rachel Leigh Cook and Damon Wayans Jr. — is all but assured by director Mark Steven Johnson’s pretty much by-the-numbers take. The question isn’t “Will they wind up together?” It’s more of a “how they will wind up together” proposition. Even with some nicely understated moments from the leads, the Netflix film is decidedly slight, easy-on-the-noggin entertainment.
Susan Whitaker has her own shingle as an attorney. Nick is a physical therapist at a rehab center. How others feel about each of them — her employees, his patients — attests to the fact they are decent people. When Nick first seeks out Susan’s services for a lawsuit, she has her doubts. Still, her penchant for turning paying clients into pro bono projects means bills are stacking up and her two supportive employees are concerned. She needs a windfall.
A former baseball player, Nick wants to sue the online dating service Love, Guaranteed. The fictional company is based in Seattle. He’s 986 dates into his search for The One and thus far, the company has failed the promise of its brand. He’s going after the outfit for “reckless endangerment of the heart.” Although Susan initially suspects he’s a “loophole shark,” Nick seems less an opportunist than an odd kind of stickler. More than once in his and Susan’s blossoming repartee, he corrects a word in her occasionally off phrases.
In launching her own practice, Susan’s gone without the creature comforts some women enjoy. Sister Melanie (Caitlin Howden), also her next-door neighbor, has a doting husband, a not-as-sweet-as-he-looks young’un and a baby on the way. The home bustles. Susan’s fridge is packed with take-out boxes from the nearby Chinese restaurant.
When she takes on Nick as a client, employees Roberto (Sean Amsing) and Denise (Lisa Durupt) insist she do research and put her profile on the Love, Guaranteed app. Intercutting the newbie’s exploits in the online dating world with her deposing of some of Nick’s 986 dates goofily teases the highs and lows — but mostly lows — of the dating game.
As much as Love, Guaranteed honcho Tamara Taylor (Heather Graham) touts the spiritual lessons of her travels to Tibet, she’s no softie. There’s gonna be some hardball come litigation time. Tamara has gathered a small army of lawyerly suits around the table to underscore just that. She offers Susan and Nick the closest thing to a nemesis, beyond their own love-shy impulses, of course.
It’s a nice touch that Cook and Wayans don’t perform their characters for broad laughs. Wayans especially plays it close to the vest. He observes a lot and reserves even more. Cook (a producer on the film) allows Susan a fine amount of social awkwardness without undercutting the fact she’s relatively successful.
In press notes, writers Elizabeth Hackett and Hilary Galanoy happily confess that they met their husbands through online dating sites. So as much as the movie skewers the many false starts this tech-enhanced way of connecting can bring, this is no exposé. And when Tamara’s attorney (Ned Rees) lands on a special kind of hairsplitting in hopes of winning the case, he’s onto something. What if posting a profile on a dating site, awaiting the alerts and submitting to first-date minuets aren’t acts of desperation but expressions of optimism: the sort of gestures that signal to the cosmos an intention to be open to love, one that may be answered not by countless nonstarters but by fate?
The ensemble of character witnesses the movie enlists for Susan and Nick is as personable as the protagonists. Sean Amsing and Lisa Durupt have fun as Susan’s ridiculously encouraging employees. Alvin Sanders brings sly wit to match-making Jerome. And though there’s nothing warm and fuzzy about her character, Kandyse McClure’s turn as Nick’s one-time fiancée Arianna Silver, comes with a fierce awareness that makes the movie a little savvier.
For those of you who appreciate the ways in which a classic car can declare something about a character’s personality, perk up: Susan’s car of choice is a foxy Karmann Ghia. If you bristle at the ’80s hit “I Think We’re Alone Now” by Tiffany, beware. The various uses of the earwig tune, which play on that vintage VW’s tape deck, are clever. The score itself a little less so: It’s the one gesture that tends to overstate the movie’s charms. Still, if likability is a trait you value, “Love, Guaranteed” delivers the undemanding pleasure of watching two fundamentally decent people tumble into fondness and then love.