Perhaps the most interesting thing that can be said about Purple Violets is that it bypassed the cinema completely and became the first film to premiere exclusively on iTunes.
"You don't need to be sitting in a massive theatre to experience two people sitting on a park bench trying to figure their lives out," said the director, Edward Burns, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times when the film was first released. Goodness. Doesn't that sound like a must-see: two people lolling around in the park whining about their lives. If the film's writer and director sums it up like that, then, really, how optimistic can the rest of us be?
Not very, is the short answer. This is the eighth film Burns has written and directed, and since he also stars as one of the four leads, he had plenty invested in it - especially considering that after his first two films, The Brothers McMullen and She's the One, there was talk of him being the next Woody Allen. Then Burns slipped up with later efforts including The Groomsmen and Sidewalks of New York. Would Purple Violets mark his return to quirky greatness?
There are certainly Allen hallmarks here - loving shots of New York and a glossy cast of young professionals, all with a touch of neurosis - but they don't elevate the poor plot much. Ironically for a film that is part of the web 2.0 mould, the story ignores major internet developments. It starts with the best friends Patti (Selma Blair) and Kate (Debra Messing) having dinner together. Suddenly, they spot Brian (Patrick Wilson) and Murphy (Burns), ex-boyfriends who they both dated 12 years ago and apparently haven't seen or heard from since. Hello, what about Facebook? Don't tell me that Patti has never obsessively leafed through Brian's online photos or that Kate hasn't been monitoring Murphy's wall posts. Please. What on earth is the internet for, if not obsessively checking up on past loves?
For the purpose of this thoroughly modern film, however, let's pretend that the internet and social networking don't exist and that these couples have been strangers to each other for more than a decade. Naturally, they're all going to fall slap bang back in love again. But first, let's strew some obstacles in their way to make a film of it. Patti is married to Chazz (Donal Logue), a man so vile it's extraordinary that he managed to get anyone up the aisle, let alone someone as gorgeous as Selma Blair. They have less chemistry than a pair of socks. And his British accent is laughably awful. (On the upside, it might be the funniest aspect of the film.) But it's OK because Brian has a girlfriend who lives in his mammoth, airy Tribeca loft, so he's occupied too.
Kate is apparently single but cannot get over the fact that "the Murph" may have cheated on her in their last days at college. (Twelve years on? Seriously? Hardly surprising that the script was penned by a man.) For some reason, Murph, a millionaire lawyer, has decided that after coping perfectly well without Kate for so long, he cannot continue his life without her. Twelve years wouldn't be long enough away from Messing's sulky face if you ask me, but there's no accounting for taste.
Interspersed are career problems. Patti hates her estate agency job and longs to return to writing; Brian, a best-selling novelist, longs for highbrow literary recognition. The trouble is, not one of them is likeable. They all act like moody teenagers and there are endless, lingering camera shots of Blair blinking through her fringe and curling her lip. One imagines that at such points the script simply said: "Look a bit sad." And when no character carries your sympathy, it makes for an exhausting watch.
Also, I have a moan about the credibility of Patti and Brian's writing careers. Neither looks or sounds capable of reading a book, let alone writing one. All of which leaves you, poor viewer, knowing precisely what's going to happen from that first scene in the restaurant, and the developments along the way aren't captivating enough to make it worth following through. Straight to iTunes was perhaps too ambitious. Straight to DVD would have been fairer.