Review by Jacquelin Hipes
Attending the wedding of a recent ex requires either a supernaturally healthy platonic relationship, or else an equally uncommon predilection towards masochism. Considering that Adam (Justin Long) hasn’t spoken to his former girlfriend Allison (Cobie Smulders) in months, it must be the latter. Only a year after their long-term relationship fell apart she’s gotten engaged. The wedding is coming up soon and Adam’s invitation is meant as a reconciliation between two people who have, after all, known each other for such a long time.
For some reason (guilt? curiosity? desperation?) Adam agrees to attend. What ensues once he arrives back home should look familiar to fans of the romantic comedy genre: run-ins with old acquaintances who remember how great his relationship with Allison was; awkward introductions to her new friends; competition (literal and figurative) with her fiancée Aaron (Ryan Hansen); and the inevitable wedding day denouement. However, Literally, Right Before Aaron plays out like the waking nightmare of every rom-com underdog’s dreams to an almost universally off-putting effect.
One expects the main players’ behavior to be determined by their opinion of Adam and what “side” they fell out on after his break-up. Yet even strangers pile on, relentlessly, over his single status. The clerk at his hotel has a preposterous bit about the need for only one room key; a forgotten college friend can’t stop talking about how wonderful Allison’s future husband is. Worse still, his mother keeps a vacation picture of the former couple framed in her kitchen. Adam suffers an endless barrage of reminders about what a great thing he lost and how just how replaceable he is. Everyone seems determined to make him wallow in despair. Meeting just one person so tragically lacking in self-awareness lends a dark humor to the proceedings as a whole. When almost everyone acts that way it only comes across as mean-spirited.
None of this changes the fact that Adam himself isn’t the most appealing fellow. His “meet-cute” with Allison consists of some creepy spying in the library followed by spoiling the ending of her book so she’ll leave and get coffee with him. In the present day, news of Allison’s wedding makes him so unhinged that Adam first proposes, then breaks up with his current girlfriend during their anniversary dinner. Aaron, at least, comes across as a decent person, managing an admirable level of civility toward his predecessor.
In this miasma of unpleasantness, the quiet moments between Justin Long’s Adam and Cobie Smulder’s Allison stand out as highlights. Full of honesty, awkwardness, and pain, the camaraderie between both actors exposes some hard truths about the end of long-term relationships. Other bright spots are the brief snippets of nature documentaries we see Adam editing for his job, which are narrated by a comically misinformed host (Peter Gallagher). The way these clips sync up with what’s happening in Adam’s life suggests Literally, Right Before Aaron was intended as a parody of romantic comedies. However, successful send-ups most often come from a place of love, not derision. The nasty undertones at work here undermine whatever writer/director Ryan Eggold hoped to criticize in an admittedly stale genre. Here’s hoping he finds a little more genuine humor the next time around.