A Lot Like Love

A movie like “A Lot Like Love” asks a lot of its leading man and lady. So much of their relationship is conveyed by their casual conversations, their chatting as they walk down the streets of Los Angeles and New York, with little focus on plot. The movie can therefore only be as good as Ashton Kutcher and Amanda Peet are at convincing us they are a likable, charming couple.

I am pleased, and somewhat surprised, to report that they do have a rather cute rapport together, that they handle most of the good dialogue and muddle through the average parts without embarrassing themselves. Directed calmly but without much style by British filmmaker Nigel Cole (“Calendar Girls”) from a script by sometime-actor, first-time writer Colin Patrick Lynch, “A Lot Like Love” is ultimately only decent, not great, but it does break from most of the strictures of the modern romantic comedy and provide some funny, warm moments.

In chapters set “7 years ago,” “3 years later,” “2 years later,” “1 year later” and finally in the present, Oliver (Kutcher) and Emily (Peet) keep looking each other up every couple years, trying (and failing) to maintain separate lives in the meantime. Oliver has dreams of striking it rich on the Internet, which he predicts, in 1998, “is gonna be huge.” (Somewhat anachronistic, considering the Internet already WAS huge in 1998, but OK.) But he starts slowly, living at home a bit longer than he should, and remaining mostly relationship-free. Emily, meanwhile, is a budding photographer and occasional struggling actress who has jumped into several relationships only to see them end badly. Her path never seems to cross with Oliver’s at good times: When it is right for her, he is about to move to San Francisco; when it is right for him, she is enjoying one of her rare stable moments with her present boyfriend.

When they see each other, they do walk and talk a lot, in scenes that would sometimes be funnier if the pace were enlivened a bit (those few instances where Kutcher and Peet are not quite up to the material). But they also have a few set pieces where the youthful charm of their mildly immature love — the giddiness, the silliness — is a pleasure to behold. I was especially fond of the scene where Oliver and Emily have dinner in a Chinese restaurant where they a) refuse to speak and b) communicate instead by spitting water at each other. A lot of this playfulness feels natural, and since Kutcher and Peet are not in love with each other in real life, I am forced to conclude that it is their acting prowess that is shining through.

The inevitability of their getting together once and for all does finally become overwhelming near the end of the film, making us want them to just get ON with it — but for the most part, it’s a nice, reasonably entertaining little ride along the tortuous path of love.

B- (1 hr., 47 min.; PG-13, a little partial nudity, a little mild profanity, some mild sexuality.)