Men Seeking Women (1997) / Comedy-Romance
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but would be R for sexual situations, language, and adult humor
Running Time: 92 min.
Cast: Grant Shaud, Will Ferrell, Anthony Palermo, Pamela Gien, Starr Andreef, Nia Vardalos, Tracy Fisher
Director: Jim Milio
Screenplay: Jim Milio
Review published September 24, 2003
Many viewers renting the low-budget, independent film Men Seeking Women today are probably doing so for the inclusion of SNL comedian Will Ferrell (Old School, A Night at the Roxbury), who makes his first significant appearance in a film here. Contrary to the appearances on the video box, he isn't really the star, although he does have a good share of the screen time. He also isn't the over-the-top caricature he has become in films since Austin Powers, and while some of his fans may be disappointed, I found it to be a refreshing discovery, knowing he can play things straight if he really wants to. That is not to say that this is a dramatic comedy. It does have a handful of poignant moments, but this is a silly comedy through and through, and for at least two-thirds of the running time, and intelligent and funny one as well. Sadly, like many similar films, too much turbulence approaching the runway ruins what could otherwise have been a pleasant flight.
Les (Shaud, The Distinguished Gentleman), Al (Ferrell) and Nick (Palermo, Rollerball) are lifelong friends, born on the same day in the same hospital, and now in their early 30s, they find themselves in the same predicament. They have been exceedingly unlucky in love, with seemingly no hope in sight. Les concocts a sure-fire plan to success, and one which will keep them all motivated. They all agree to bet $2,000 given to the first man to get a girlfriend and live with her for three months. They immediately get started, looking first in personal ads, anxious for the chance to gain some cash, and more importantly, keep from losing it.
Men Seeking Women wraps its plot in a ridiculous premise, so you have to be able to go along with the flow in order to properly enjoy the weak plot motivations. For instance, Les gets involved with a woman that from the outset proves to be near impossible to get, a lonely married woman who meets him in a hotel room from time to time to share their innermost secrets and engage in some tantalizing sex. Nick seems to be the only one of the three really concerned with the bet, paying off a needy old girlfriend to pretend to be his, and live with him rent free for the three month duration. Of course, things aren't always going to proceed according to plan, and the predictability factor in all cases is evident from the outset.
However, like most romantic comedies, points aren't really scored in the presentation so much as in the delivery, and Men Seeking Women is bolstered by a script full of insightful commentary on relationships by writer-director Jim Milio (co-executive producer for Nia Vardolos' monster-smash hit indie comedy, My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Nia has a small role here in her second film.) So long as Milio's story sticks in the realm of the men's interpersonal relationships, whether with women or each other, things proceed at a comfortable pace with a good share of laughs and interesting bits. When dealing with the plot of the bet, things begin to sink from lack of interest, as the mechanics of the plot lacks the appeal of the characters themselves.
Each of the men has his own story, and yes, one of them eventually wins the bet, but the wind-down of the stories and the subsequent wrap-up provide the most unsatisfying moments of the film. Just as the story maintained its likeability by ignoring the plot, eventually it's done in finally dealing with it. This makes Men Seeking Women another run-of-the-mill romantic comedy, providing the occasional chuckle, but not able to escape its own ill-conceived trappings.
If you're a hardcore, completist fan of Ferrell, this will probably end up in your collection, and he performs fine even if he doesn't really cut loose. Outside of this, I'd probably recommend watching only the first hour, and only sticking with it if you are insatiably curious how things turn up.
©2003 Vince Leo