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‘The Contrast’ review: Comedy of manners stuck to the past

Stuck in the past?

The Contrast is a romantic comedy based on the first professionally produced play in America. Maria (Joy Villa) is about to marry her fiancé Dimple (Lee Donoghue) when she meets Colonel Henry Manly (Jermain Hollman). As expected, the two connect instantly, causing Maria to have doubts about the upcoming wedding. Will she follow her heart of her family’s needs?

The source material is over two centuries old, so The Contrast can be forgiven for sounding a little too familiar. The movie tries its best to bring the original into the modern world. It is obvious the film was always meant to be more fun than original, but it is still hard to shake the feeling that it is handcuffed to the past. The film is a contemporary adaptation that feels like it would rather be someplace – or some time – else.

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Rom coms (though this may be more accurately described as a comedy of manners) tend to have formulaic plots, and The Contrast is no different. That is not the problem here. What stands out more is how the cast is never allowed any space. They seem trapped by the confines of the writing. This keeps them distant and never allows for the proper interaction with the audience.

The script makes the necessary changes, but it still remains tethered too closely to the 1787 version. Instead of paying homage or being a reimagining, the film almost feels like it is put in a box. The Contrast – and by extension, its cast – are never given the proper room to breathe. Things end up being predictable in the worst possible way. It lacks any comfort in the familiarity.

Ultimately, The Contrast is not a bad movie; it is just one that is not allowed to forge its own way. Plenty of films take inspiration from stories from the past. An argument can be made that all movies do. The problem with this one is not that it sticks too close to the play it is based on; the issue is it feels like it is unable to do anything different. 

The Contrast opens on digital platforms January 18

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