Surprise Me!

I think we’d all agree that in regards to the Romantic-Comedy, we have an excess inventory of films to choose from. Standing out from the pack is the challenge. The big studios will throw huge wads of cash at celebrities, hoping they alone will sell tickets. Then there’s being overly erotic or salacious in hopes of a box office boost from the elite indie audience (which instantly drops the comedy moniker). But for the real independent filmmaker, you stand out only with unique ideas or premises to hook audiences in. Which brings us to Nancy Goodman’s Surprise Me!

Genie Burns (Fiona Gubelmann) is the successful owner of Surprise Enterprise, an event planning company specializing in the ultimate surprise party. Need to surprise your parents for their anniversary? How about your best friend’s birthday? Genie’s your gal.

Genie’s got issues though. She can never maintain a romantic relationship of her own. There are only two eligible men in her life. Her business partner Steven (LaShawn Banks) is gay, so he’s safe. Danny (Jonathan Bennett) is her college best friend, but she keeps him at arm’s length since he is the only one, she can confide.

“Jeff charms it up again, asking Genie on a date to the free samples table on aisle four…”

After a day of talking about dating with everyone, Genie meets the charming Jeff (Sean Faris) at her favorite coffee shop. He’s a little forward, and she’s a lot put off. Later, the two happen to meet at the grocery store. Jeff charms it up again, asking Genie on a date to the free samples table on aisle four. Her gut tells her to say no, but she not only says yes to the samples date, but to lunch as well.

So, let’s sum things up. Genie can’t find a guy. Danny is her best friend from college. They have a connection and he’s always there for her, but is only a friend. Then there’s Jeff, the new guy who sweeps her off her feet, beginning the perfect relationship. What do you think happens next?

While Surprise Me! doesn’t have the most original story, it does manage to do something new and exciting, which is trying to figure out what the hell is wrong with Genie. Stressed out by a new client, who wants Surprise Enterprise to plan a surprise wedding, Genie starts to panic by sabotaging her relationship with Jeff and starts binging desserts as a coping mechanism.

“Nicole Sullivan is great and funny, giving the film much needed energy…”

As the stress levels build, she looks for reasons to eat like when Jeff won’t immediately text her back or return her phone calls or when she shows up unannounced while he’s watching football. The needy Genie turns to a professional for help in her new therapist Ellen (Nicole Sullivan). More blunt than abrasive Ellen is a straight-shooter, wasting no time to getting to the heart of Genie’s problems. Genie FEEDS her feelings rather than FEELS her feelings, specifically the negative ones. When Jeff doesn’t call her back, she thinks he’s forgotten her or worse having an affair, so she eats rather than fighting through anxious moments.

Much of the third act is Genie figuring out her emotions leading to a big, surprise ending. It is the therapy sessions that make Surprise Me! interesting. As Genie, Fiona Gubelmann carries the entire film, and she plays Genie with charisma and as you ride this rollercoaster of emotion with her. Nicole Sullivan is great and funny, giving the film much needed energy to launch us toward the ending.

That said, Surprise Me! beats a little life into its contribution to the very crowded market of Rom-Coms. The film is good and will appeal to fans of the genre, but doesn’t do enough to transcend it, which is what you hope when you watch dozens of Rom-Coms every year and when you want to broaden the appeal of your film altogether.

Surprise Me! (2019) Written and directed by Nancy Goodman. Starring Fiona Gubelmann, Nicole Sullivan, Jonathan Bennett, Sean Faris, LaShawn Banks.

7 out of 10 stars

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