‘The Lost City’ struggles to find treasure, romance or comedy
If you squint, you might recognize a slew of better movies that the creators of ‘The Lost City’ may have had in mind as they worked on developing the latest ‘action, romantic comedy. by Sandra Bullock. Admittedly, the film is rarely romantic, only fleetingly comical, and its action sets are underwhelming. But you can make out a faint glimmer of what he might be attempting. For a movie with four credited writers and an additional fifth person with a “story by” credit, most of what “The Lost City” could, or could be, is overshadowed by the aggressive nothingness of what it is – a movie. incredibly lukewarm to live.
A writer in her late 50s finds herself embroiled in an unlikely romance with a younger man. It’s actually the plot of Nancy Meyer’s “Something’s Gotta Give,” where Diane Keaton finds herself navigating between a potential romance with a young Keanu Reeves and an older Jack Nicholson. But it came to mind while watching “The Lost City” where Sandra Bullock plays Loretta, a late 50s writer who finds herself in an unlikely potential romance with a younger man (played by Channing Tatum) how different romance, or the illusion of it, looks like when a movie actually has something to say. And anyone can guess what “The Lost City” has to say. The plot bones are pretty simple – Loretta is a widow who writes romance novels and is on a book tour when she is kidnapped by Abigail Fairfax, an infamous billionaire in search of a lost city with treasure supposedly invaluable. Loretta’s historical research with her deceased archaeologist husband has convinced Fairfax that she can help him locate the treasure. In an attempt to convince Loretta of her dedication, her cover model (Tatum as Alan) embarks on a rescue mission to the remote island in the Atlantic. Chaos ensues, then adventure then romance.
If this all sounds like a vaguely awkward setup for a movie with so many writers, it’s not the only case of “The Lost City” feeling defined by an overall non-committal energy. It’s a disconcerting tone for a film that carries a lot of weight. In a “post-pandemic” world, whether audiences will venture into cinemas for anything other than the spectacle of superhero fantasy is a big question. And intentions of a mid-budget, female-led rom-com (Bullock is also producing that) is a great idea. A world with more rom-coms on the big screen is a better world, especially ones that honor women over fifty. Yet few things in “The Lost City” are as exciting, innovative, or engaging as its potential could be.
Is it radical to say that a film must be both romantic and comedic before being allowed to present itself as a romantic comedy? Theoretically it shouldn’t, but more and more movies under the romcom moniker seem to be stripped of the “rom” or the “com”, leaving us with endless sludge that elicits an “ummm” more than anything else. ambivalent. It’s not really the fault of Aaron and Adam Nee (who have co-directing duties, as well as co-writing duties). They arrived at the party late in the game when the Hollywood romantic comedy has already been reduced to a lukewarm nothingness. And yet, difficult not to feel a vague resentment in the face of its inoffensive turgidity. It is, to its credit, rarely completely bad.
There are too many actors ahead of us who are pretty good, even when they’re coasting. The general charm of Bullock, Tatum, Daniel Radcliffe and (very briefly) Brad Pitt is fine. Da’Vine Joy Randolph, struggling with a dark role as a black best friend, does her best with a role that is truly insignificant. But beyond a general sense of the film’s own metatextual considerations of what it means to write about romance, “The Lost City” feels indistinct at every turn. Even its central value, a woman in her fifties as a romantic subject, seems pointless when very little in this film suggests that Bullock is truly portraying an older, reclusive woman. We think of Katharine Hepburn becoming more and more uninhibited in “The African Queen”, or of Diane Keaton allowing herself to want and be wanted in “Something’s Gotta Give”. There are possibilities, depths of possibility, in a woman who thought love had passed her by acknowledging that it was within her reach. But it would take a precise level of care and specificity of character for us to be moved by any manifestation of passion. And “The Lost City” is unspecific, and even lower on passion.
One could imagine the appeal of Tatum and Bullock together – his goofy, scatterbrained hero shtick has its appeal against Bullock’s more taciturn Loretta. But the film has no idea who these people are individually or together. And that’s not even taking into account his weird idea of what romance novel publishing looks like in 2022. I spent way too long grimacing at the general recklessness of every plot point. Every time a popcorn movie comes out and I think too hard. I think, maybe, I’m being weirdly pedantic about a movie that should just be fun, and then I think in the 1930s, the heyday of romantic comedy, cinematic excellence and success at the box office was a series of valuable romantic comedies that would set the stage for so much great work. Jimmy Stewart and Katharine Hepburn waltzing drunk on champagne, or decades later Rock Hudson and Doris Day sizzling as enemies of lovers in “Pillow Talk,” or romance and comedy amid social realism when James Earl Jones and Diahann Carroll s kiss in “Claudine”. The pinnacle of comedic specificity, or something like heightened tension, in “The Lost City” comes with a leeches kick to Channing Tatum’s butt. Of course, there are worse uses for a very large screen. But really to what end? At every turn, “The Lost City” chooses the least compelling or least entertaining route for these characters to take, and worse still for its approach to framing them. It’s not just the script that gives them nothing, but a climactic final moment of our lovers watching an erupting volcano has neither grandeur nor majesty; like the rest of the film, it looks and feels synthetic. Two budding lovers going on an adventure in the forest could offer something aesthetically appealing. But not here. Low-quality aesthetics meets low-quality politics, when the film’s idea of engaging with indigenous legend at its center echoes a consistent absence of any sense of understanding indigenousness in any real way.
I refuse to believe that anyone, anywhere is passionate about this.
Where is the chemistry? The reader ? The necessary romance that makes life even more precious? Even if one views “The Lost City” as more concerned with something quiet, a widowed woman finding love again, the contours of her romance are so lacking. When the lovers kiss at the end, you can feel the movie shrug as if to say “Sure, I guess,” which pretty much sums up my reaction. Never quite blatantly terrible, but devoid of passion or character, it’s hard to find an answer to the aggressively underwhelming hijinks at work here. If this is our last hope for the romantic comedy as a cinematic event, we don’t have much to look forward to.