Published Aug 20, 2015A safe bet within the landscape of cinema is that any character living a life of excess indulgence, be it financial success or having a licentious disposition, will ultimately learn the importance of traditionalist family values. It's a conservative and moralistic tactic used to control the bourgeoisie, reassuring conventional breeding stock that mediocrity, repression and behavioural submission is the true road to fulfillment, contrary to an underlying capitalist ethos that motivates through competition and guilt. Most refer to these propaganda items as "feel good" films, making the audience feel good by suggesting that deep down everyone is a heteronormative sap that just needs to settle down and pay their taxes to find true happiness.
Tom Vaughan's How to Make Love Like an Englishman is the very embodiment of this idea. It starts out with a contextualizing wallop of rudimentary Freudian psychology, positing Richard (Pierce Brosnan), a poetry professor, as a detached, self-serving charmer entirely influenced by his Byronic father (Malcolm McDowell), whose romanticist guiding ideological framework is that of the 18th Century artistic and intellectual movement and its aversion to authority and responsibility. Outside of the lecture hall, this manifests with Richard bedding his student, Kate (Jessica Alba), who is psychologically condensed by her older sister Olivia (Salma Hayek) as a naïve girl seeking a father figure in a man that shares the similarly immoral and promiscuous lifestyle of her own absent father (not once is the influence of maternal role models mentioned or acknowledged). The kicker: Olivia and Richard want to pork each other but can't because Kate is pregnant.
It doesn't take a genius to figure out where this rom-com formula is going. The arc is that of teaching a lothario that familiar is better than strange. Since this is a story male identity modification, the women are just absurdly attractive shells existing to validate the ego and superficially exaggerate the gravity of Richard's bullshit narcissistic crisis.
With the basic message and format of this middling banal film being little more than derivative fluff, the success of How to Make Love Like an Englishman needs to lie in the cleverness of the banter, the strength of the comedy and the charm of the various performers. Unfortunately, the actual script is as template as it gets and there isn't really anything resembling a performance to anchor things.
Though things progress in a logical fashion with the appropriate severity given to each act and moments of crisis, the actual dialogue and character interplay is quite flat. Save an irreverent and amusing monologue from Malcolm McDowell about the American woman's propensity for gobbling down self-help nonsense, fad diets and frozen yogurt, there's really nothing here to distinguish this from a promptly cancelled sitcom. Similarly, with Alba blankly smiling her way through yet another thankless bimbo role, there's only Hayek and Brosnan left to carry the film. And since they have absolutely no chemistry and, weirdly, virtually no valuable screen time together to justify the romantic sub-story, it's impossible to care about who ends up where or does what.
At the end of it all there are some twee observations about the nature of fatherhood, which, to be fair, will warm the cockles of the octogenarian crowd likely to watch something like this. But it's so manufactured and facile that even this crowd — a crowd looking for an inoffensive, conservative throwback romp — might feel a tad insulted.
This is an example of a film where absolutely no risks are taken and no cultural norms are challenged. It's the cinematic equivalent of a bowl of vanilla pudding.