The Rebound

Zeta's still got it but the script ain't.

On the basis of the promotional material, you couldn’t go far wrong in anticipating that The Rebound is another safe, 12A-rated, sickeningly homogenised, achingly middle-class examination of relationships, free of any of the passion or thought that goes into real, human love. While many of these assumptions are true, The Rebound benefits from the edgier allowance of a 15-rating, and a fun performance from the still-gorgeous Catherine Zeta-Jones, even if it struggles to land smoothly in the final stages.

Sandy (Zeta-Jones) is a driven, independent mother of two who has recently moved to New York City after discovering that her husband cheated on her. Here she rents an apartment above a coffee shop, where she becomes fast friends with one of the shop’s employees, Aram Finklestein (Justin Bartha), a 25-year-old, directionless graduate who quickly shows an interest in her. He’s great with kids, never looks at other women and is generally nice as pie, but there’s one problem; he’s twenty years younger than her. Can they overcome the insurmountable odds? Will they realise that age is merely a number? Will true love prevail?

You know the answer to these questions, and the solution to the central problem rather clumsily unspools in the final reel, but for close to an hour, The Rebound is a perfect reminder that likeable characters can take a film far. The chemistry between Zeta-Jones and Bartha sells the whole thing, but what’s really interesting and fun is the film’s depiction of middle-aged women. Attitudes typically reserved for films from Judd Apatow and the Frat Pack are here supplanted onto Sandy and her oversexed friends, as one bluntly tells Sandy to go “get laid”. The depiction of women on display here is a firm antidote to the silly girliness that dominates the Sex and the City films, and is a celebration of something more raw, and ultimately, more important; the simple throes of passion. Rejoice; there’s not a vintage Valentino in sight!

Zeta-Jones really goes for broke when a lesser actress might just coast on formula; she spits venom and proudly curses when the script calls for it, while still managing the essential chemistry with Bartha, who will be mildly familiar to audiences as the misplaced groom from The Hangover. Why The Rebound’s first two-thirds work isn’t because the film is especially funny – for the humour is mild at best – but because the characters are likeable, and as a result, we want it to work. To the note of humour, though, the jokes are thankfully never as daft or cringe-inducingly bad as most recent rom-coms, even if they often struggle to raise a smile.

Sure, the trajectory is always in plain sight – Zeta-Jones will go through a few dud guys before realising she has feelings for the nanny – but it’s mostly well-crafted, and certainly better-acted than it has any right to be. It is the least-condescending film of its type in some time, even if the inevitable issues abound; to start, Bartha’s Aram is simply too nice, to the point that both females and their boyfriends dragged to the cinema are likely to have trouble buying it. Though Aram never seems spineless, his disturbingly submissive demeanour suggests he probably wouldn’t be much fun outside of the pub. His characterisation does seem a touch pat, as though engineered to make his romance with the jilted Sandy a touch more plausible. Still, the sexual tension is remarked early on, and it’s admirable that the film has no pretensions about where its plot is going.

The film encounters issues when attempting Real Drama, however, for while seeing Sandy rip her ex-hubby to shreds is quite delightful, the pace slackens once the film abruptly dilutes time and zips forward to that dramatic beat needed to distend things out to the 90-minute mark. It seems particularly hackneyed given that we have barely had time to appreciate Sandy and Aram’s amusingly awkward relationship before it is thrown into a maudlin rollercoaster of flux for the sake of cheap sentiment. It is a shame that the last third comes off as so disingenuous and manufactured, because Zeta-Jones and Bartha chew through the middling dialogue with dedicated vigour.

It almost seems like The Rebound might arrive at a mature and pragmatic resolution which would have been both brave and admirable, yet writer-director Bart Freundlich just can’t resist the temptation of formula, closing things out in the most dumbfoundingly arbitrary of ways. In fairness, the first hour is effective in its sweetness and light, yet the decent work is bungled by an overly-serious and poorly paced third act, which best resembles a particularly dodgy episode of Hollyoaks.


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