To her small town, Lucy Sherrington (Allison Brie) is the picture of perfection. She teaches art at the local high school, is known for her willingness to volunteer, and always seems to be around to help out someone in need. Every man in town loves Lucy, or at least they think they do. The innocent high school teacher decides she will be a bad girl for once and agrees to have an affair with married football Coach Clint Coburn (Colin Hanks). Unsure and a little worried about what this will do to her community, Lucy couldn’t be more surprised when Coburn falls into a hole in space and time that miraculously shows up in her living room floor, just as a half-naked Coburn steps to approach her. Lucy rushes to the basement but discovers the hole entirely exists in her living room. Terrified, she attempts to go get rope from Coburn’s childhood friend, and along the way runs into Rydell Whyte (Justin Chatwin) who is in town for an unknown and possible nefarious purpose involving Clint. Coburn’s car is found in the woods and soon the whole town is worried that something terrible has happened to him. Lucy tries to keep Clint’s whereabouts a secret, but slowly begins to crack under pressure. Rydell is immediately labeled a suspect, but only after he and Lucy begin to fall for each other. In the end, it takes a furious wife, the entire town and every available rope-like object to discover what love truly is.
Director Nick Wernham picked the perfect actress when he approached Allison Brie for Lucy. The good girl with the deep anxiety over misbehaving is something Brie has perfected with her time as Annie Edison on the television show Community. Her sweet behaviors coupled with her moments of true expression make Lucy’s character fun to watch and worry the viewer about how she will endure even when the only sin she’s committed is intention. One such instance is when she blows up at her womens’ group when they attempt to label her as perfect. Her response is quick and angry, but still phrased in the way of a nice girl who isn’t trying to cause problems. Colin Hanks is starting to look so much like his father that it can be humorously challenging to separate oneself from the image of Tom Hanks. Colin’s portrayal as a smarmy high-school Coach is difficult to watch because he is just so good at it. His soul-searching while trapped in a hole is humorous and his eventual realization of how much he actually loves his wife feels authentic. Robin Brule manages to steal the end of the film with her portrayal of Verna Colburn. Clad in sweatpants and with a hankie that she claims weighs several pounds, Brule’s work as a woman who was almost wronged and just wants to be loved is laughably poignant. Her claims that love is weak and all she wants is to hold her husband again rings true for many women who have been cheated on. Rydell Whyte is a difficult character in that for so much of the film he tries to be mysterious, but keeps failing to keep his true self hidden. Chatwin pulls this off beautifully whether it’s striking his head against the car while trying to enter it like a mystery man, his bouts of poetry, ducking under rocks while still being visible, or his shouting while standing on the clifftops with Lucy.
The film explores what love really means while also playing with the idea of one’s true identity even as one is being forced up on them. Rydell’s family encourages him to be a criminal, though all he really wants to be is a poet. Lucy’s community labels her as lovable and perfect, even as she begins to crack under the pressure. This desire to express their true selves attracts Rydell and Lucy together. It is also deeply important for Lucy’s character that Colburn falls in the hole before anything can actually happens. One gets the impression that Lucy would fall completely apart had she actually done something she sees as wicked as cheating with a married man. The intention alone weighs heavy enough on her that she admits it to the entire town. No Stranger Than Love becomes something stronger than a romantic comedy, much like the film fan-favorite Safety Not Guaranteed a few years back with Aubrey Plaza. Unlike most romantic comedies, this film is not just watchable, it’s rewatchable.
No Stranger Than Love premiered at the closing night of the Newport Beach Film Festival and is currently looking for buyers to bring it to the big screen.