My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend

Among my many failures as a movie critic is my overuse of the word “pleasant.” It’s because I have a limited vocabulary and to me, “pleasant” is one of the best things a movie can be. Sure, I love thrillers and horror movies and the occasional feel-bad classic like “Seven” or “Memento.” But there’s something very satisfying about a movie that’s sunny, friendly, and cheerful, one that you know will end happily.

The problem, of course, is that a lot of movies fitting that description are also stupid and irritating. But then there’s “My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend,” which is pleasant without sacrificing intelligence or wit. It was written and directed by first-timer Daryn Tufts (with whom I performed in a comedy troupe in the 1990s, full disclosure), who applies the familiar romantic-comedy tools in slightly new ways.

Oh, this is also the rare romantic comedy that’s actually romantic and actually funny. Not “Pride and Prejudice” romantic or “Airplane!” funny, but still. It’s pleasant, you know?

The girlfriend of the title is Jesse (Alyssa Milano), a broken-hearted coffee-shop waitress who meets two great guys on the same day. One is Ethan (Christopher Gorham), who wants to be a novelist but has been told by a publisher (Carol Kane, doing a Southern accent, I think, because why not?) that his writing isn’t good enough. The other is Troy (Michael Landes), a successful advertising exec. Where Ethan is hapless and slightly dorky, Troy is smooth and charming. Ethan is ready to give up on his dream of being a writer and doesn’t know what he’ll do instead. Troy is confident and secure.

You’re expecting Troy to be a jerk, but NO! In a shocking twist, both guys are perfectly decent, and they both treat Jesse with kindness. Either one would be a suitable partner for her. We find ourselves on Ethan’s side, though — maybe because he’s the underdog; maybe because he wears his heart on his sleeve; maybe because we met him first. (For a few minutes at the start, we thought he was going to be the film’s protagonist….) But Jesse will need to choose one or the other. At the very least, she’ll need to tell Ethan and Troy about one another’s existence. Won’t she?

What ensues is sweet, surprising, and clever, earnest without being sappy. This is due in large part to the natural rapport between Alyssa Milano and Christopher Gorham, who are very likable together. Tufts often lets them talk in long, unbroken takes, and the dynamic between the characters feels warmly authentic.

Tom Lenk (from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) adds support as Jesse’s brother, David, an amusingly weird introvert who’s famous for having appeared in a gum commercial. And Beau Bridges has a couple of nice scenes as Jesse and David’s uncle, gently urging Jesse to move on after her previous romantic woes.

The film is a modest production, made on what I assume was a shoestring budget, but it doesn’t look chintzy. It doesn’t have the glitz that nearly everything else in the multiplex has. What it does have, though, is a story with refreshing and unexpected turns, a handful of endearing performances, and a smart, optimistic attitude. As surprises go, this one is most pleasant indeed.

B (1 hr., 24 min.; PG, some very mild innuendo and thematic elements.)