If you set out to combine the worst parts of Hallmark holiday movies with the worst parts of frenetic ‘90s rom-coms, you’d probably wind up with something a lot like “About Fate.” The women are nuts, the men are clueless and the production is so cheap you could pass the time spotting every mistake no one bothered to fix.
Maybe a movie that has so little ambition doesn’t deserve such a harsh summation. But we have, for the most part, moved beyond the most enervating chick-flick stereotypes. So it’s more than a little dispiriting to see Margot (Emma Roberts) lose her mind when her boyfriend Kip (Lewis Tan, “Into the Badlands”) suggests they get dinner at Bennigan’s.
For reasons that make sense only to screenwriter Tiffany Paulsen — who also wrote the Roberts vehicles “Nancy Drew” and “Holidate” — Margot is fixated on the idea that Kip must be proposing. They’ve only been dating for three months, so Kip is as baffled as we are by her untethered reality. But after she throws a drink in his face and storms out, she experiences the moment that changes her life.
Because as it turns out, people really do propose at Bennigan’s! Or, at least, Griffin (Thomas Mann, “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”) does. And much to his surprise, his influencer girlfriend Clementine (Madelaine Petsch, “Riverdale”) is less than impressed by the locale. So, naturally, she storms out, too. (The restaurant’s proudly prominent product placement throughout makes for a presumably unintentional but highly entertaining contrast when the characters are forced to get their coffee at “Starcups.”)
A miserable and drunken Griffin soon winds up at Margot’s place, because — wait for it — they both live at 15 Maple Drive. Not the same one, though; they’re at different ends of a giant condo community. This quirk of fate (a polite way of saying “first-draft take,” in this case) must cause some real havoc at their local post office, since even Griffin doesn’t realize he’s entered the wrong apartment. Until, of course, Margot accidentally gets in bed with him and they both jump up screaming.
Anyway. Margot promised to bring her new fiancé to her sister Carrie’s wedding, which is TOMORROW. So not only does she need a date ASAP, but she needs one who’s nice and cute and willing to pretend to be Kip! What. To. Do?
Right, so everyone winds up at the wedding, where the family loves Kip, who’s really Griffin. (You guessed right, didn’t you?) But then the real Kip shows up! And now Margot has to choose between two guys, instead of none! Meanwhile, Carrie (Britt Robertson, “Big Sky”) is a super uptight bride because, again, women. And Margot has practically ruined the wedding with her typically irresponsible shenanigans. Although, as Griffin is realizing, one man’s irresponsible shenanigans is another man’s manic pixie dream. But hold up, Clementine is still expecting him to come to her New Year’s Eve party! (Oh yeah, it’s also New Year’s Eve.) Plus Griffin’s probably seen “Riverdale,” and who would be stupid enough to turn down Madelaine Petsch?
Breathe easy, because it all works out in the end – though not for us, since we’ll never get that hour and 40 minutes back. It’s also not great for Cheryl Hines and Wendie Malick, who bring welcome but very brief gravitas to this circus; they only get a few lines each as the moms.
Mann, at least, is easygoing and likable, which is crucial under the circumstances. But Roberts is — well, the most generous assessment would be that she’s just playing the role as directed. Indeed, the overall tone surely comes down to director Marius Vaysburg, a Russian filmmaker whose oeuvre also includes “Hitler Goes Kaput,” “Naughty Grandma” and “Naughty Grandma 2.”
Kudos to him, for cutting every corner and still coming out a winner: the sets are cheap, the story is soulless, and the visuals could charitably be described as meh. Nevertheless, he was smart enough to throw in some wreaths and a NYE countdown to expand his holiday bandwagon odds. He corralled an impressively — some might say shockingly — accomplished cast. He even got this film into movie theaters, when actual Oscar winners are getting pushed straight to streaming. And having pulled off so much, he also (we can only guess) somehow also convinced Bennigan’s to pay for it all.
“About Fate” opens in theaters and on digital Sept. 9 via American International Pictures.