Women can tell whether a guy is single or attached. How else to explain the seemingly endless romantic possibilities lurking just around the corner when we’re attached to someone; possibilities that scatter faster than the leaves in autumn when we find ourselves single again?
Now, we guys don’t know exactly how women do this, they just…know. Somehow. Or at least that’s what we tell each other; one of those convenient, built-in excuses to explain our most recent Saturday night strikeout at the local watering hole.
Owen McCabe (Paul Schneider) is the kind of guy who might buy into that theory. Owen is an “author” of hack-job biographies living in Los Angeles, who still hasn’t come to terms with being dumped by his ex-girlfriend, Eileen. Since Owen always refers to Los Angeles as a “lady,” it should come as no surprise to him that the city treats him the way a fickle women might a potential suitor: As long as she’s got him, she doesn’t want him, but when he tries to leave, she sucks him right back into her smog and traffic-ridden bosom.
And try to leave he does, when an epiphany-producing earthquake makes him question his sleazy dead-end existence. Owen walks out on his latest book deal, a puff piece on pompous former astronaut Bucky Brandt (Fred Willard), tells it like it is to all of his friends, irrevocably burning bridges in the process, and heads off to catch a flight to the East Coast where a book deal writing about an esteemed Ivy League professor awaits.
There are two things Owen doesn’t count on: meeting and becoming smitten with Val (Jennifer Westfeldt), an acquaintance of Eileen’s, just as he’s about to board his plane, and the fact that he might be just a wee bit jealous of the romantic relationship blossoming between his best friend Allison (Poppy Montgomery) and their unabashedly lesbian roommate Stephanie (Tori Spelling).
Needless to say, Owen doesn’t make the plane.
Instead, he finds himself stuck in a homeless purgatory somewhere between the life that was on the West Coast and the life that could be out east. Owen tries to speed things up with Val, putting their relationship on an artificially fast track in hopes of discovering quickly whether or not he should go through with his Big Move. He soon finds out, however, that neither Val nor Los Angeles is the woman who’s hardest to leave behind.
It’s becoming progressively more difficult to come up with fresh ways to breathe life into the romantic comedy genre, but “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” somehow manages to do just that. For starters, the whole concept of “breaking up with your life,” as Owen describes it, is darn near brilliant. And while there’s never any serious doubt about how director Jordan Hawley’s bittersweet comedy is going to end up, it’s still a fun and silly-in-a-good-way ride to get there.
This is due primarily to a fine ensemble cast, put to good use by Hawley, who also wrote the screenplay. Schneider, in particular, turns in a snappy performance, as Owen constantly treads the very thin line between demonstrating his newfound, George Castanza-like, nothing-to-lose honesty and being a flat out jerk.
In the end, it all works out for him, and about the only bad thing about “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” is the fact that now you’ll be humming that damned Paul Simon tune for days.