January 7, 2020
by Carla Hay
Directed by Tammy Minoff
Culture Representation: Taking place in bohemian-friendly California locations, the romantic comedy “Limerence” has an almost entirely white cast playing mostly American middle-class characters.
Culture Clash: The entire plot revolves around the characters’ conflicts and personal feelings on what kinds of commitments are needed to validate romantic relationships.
Culture Audience: “Limerence” will appeal primarily to fans of low-budget indie flicks that focus on love, relationships and quirky characters.
Romantic movies have an interesting challenge right now. Movie audiences are craving more sophisticated and nuanced stories than the formulaic romantic comedies that Kate Hudson and Jennifer Lopez used to make in the 2000s. But at the same time, the enduring popularity of “The Bachelor” franchise indicates that there are millions of people who want to see the fantasy of being swept up into a love affair so passionate that getting engaged after dating for a short period of time can be a real possibility. When it comes to movies and scripted TV shows, the would-be couple usually has a “meet cute” moment, and there’s usually one partner in the relationship who is more reluctant to commit than the other. At the same time, we are also living in the #MeToo era, where workplace romances shown on screen are being viewed in a different way than how they might have been perceived in previous decades.
“Limerence” (written and directed by Tammy Minoff) packs in all of these issues in a mostly charming way and throws in some clichés as well as some curveballs. The characters’ dialogues are more realistic than some of the contrived situations that drive the central story: Two seemingly commitment-phobic people—aspiring painter Rosemary Wilder (played by Minoff) and art-gallery owner Tom Bartlett (played by Matthew Del Negro)—find themselves falling in love with each other.
Rosemary, the protagonist of “Limerence,” is an artistic free spirit in her mid-20s who has a history of cheating on and breaking up with boyfriends when she feels too confined in a relationship. She believes in love, but doesn’t necessarily believe that she’s suited for long-term monogamy. Rosemary is devoted to her art, but she doesn’t like to call herself an “artist” because she thinks that word is too pretentious to describe herself. She’s also the type who’s aware that she’s usually the most attractive woman in a room, so she gravitates toward men for emotional validation. It’s obvious that she gets along better with men than she does with women, since Rosemary doesn’t seem to have any close female friends.
Rosemary is a recent transplant from New York City to Venice, California (a well-known magnet for bohemian types), but her living situation is less than ideal upon arriving in Venice. She has to stay with her best friend from high school, Leo (played by Billy Aaron Brown), a slacker who’s living in a commune-like home with a bunch of eccentric New Age people who have names like Shamrock and Honeybee. One of the house residents is Rosemary’s and Leo’s mutual friend Emma (played by Marissa Ingrasci), who’s fully immersed in the hippie-ish lifestyle, while Leo just needs a place to stay since he can’t afford a place of his own. Rosemary is the type of person who goes with the flow, because the first thing she does when she’s in the house’s bathroom is light up a joint and impulsively dye her hair pink when she sees pink hair dye in the medicine cabinet.
Leo has a day job at a Vitamin Shoppe but he moonlights as an events DJ. Meanwhile, Rosemary has vague plans to draw and paint and hopefully find a way to sell her work. While spending a few hours sketching at a local café, she sees a handsome older man (about 10 to 15 years older than she is) meeting different women for dates in the café at different times, before he and each woman leave for an obvious tryst. It’s unclear if the different women know about each other, but it’s very clear that the guy is a playboy.
Later, while accompanying Leo to a DJ gig at a bar mitzvah, Rosemary sees the playboy, who’s a longtime friend of a married couple at the party. Rosemary and the guy have the “meet cute” moment where they flirt and play coy with one another before Rosemary tells him that she saw him being a player with different women at the café. After some alcohol is consumed, Rosemary and the guy end up in bed together at his place before she even bothers to ask what his name is. She asks what his name is only after she’s getting ready to leave, because she thinks he’s a one-night stand she’ll probably never see again. But this is a romantic movie, so of course she’ll see him again.
That moment comes after Rosemary breezily (and unrealistically) gets hired on the spot as an assistant at a trendy art gallery, when she tells the no-nonsense manager Jack (played by Jack Merrill) that she met him in Brooklyn, and decided to take him up on his offer to look him up when she was in California. Jack doesn’t really remember her, but the movie wants viewers to believe that Rosemary has such a magnetic personality that she can talk this cynical manager into hiring her, and he does. Not long after she’s hired, in walks the gallery’s owner. His name is Tom Bartlett, and he’s the playboy who is (of course) Rosemary’s recent hookup. At first, Rosemary and Tom play it cool in front of the other employees and act like they have a strictly professional relationship. But it isn’t long before their passions take over, and they don’t try to hide that they’re sleeping together.
In a private conversation between Tom and Jack, viewers find out that Tom has a history of sleeping with young, attractive women (usually aspiring artists who end up working at his gallery) and then dumping them. It’s resulted in the gallery having a revolving door of employees who are Tom’s female conquests, and Jack is getting fed up with these shenanigans. Tom considers it mixing business with pleasure, but in this #MeToo era, any boss who acts this way is just asking to be sued for sexual harassment if the dumped woman decides that she was taken sexually advantage of by her boss. Although there’s no indication that Tom’s relationships are non-consensual, his pattern of having flings with his female employees is the most cringeworthy aspect of the movie.
Rosemary is no angel either, but the main flaw of “Limerence” is that the movie plays right into tired clichés that a financially successful “bad boy” who has his pick of women can be changed by suddenly falling in love with an unsophisticated younger woman whose life isn’t going so well, and he can be her knight in shining armor by giving her a better life. Some of the most popular romantic movies of all time use these clichés, from “A Star Is Born” to “Pretty Woman.” However, one of the best aspects of “Limerence” is Minoff’s ability to craft Rosemary as a complex character who’s full of contradictions.
On the one hand, Rosemary sees herself as someone who likes to be independent and not bound by a lot of society’s norms. She privately ridicules Tom’s married friends Donald and May (played by Evan Arnold and Jennifer Lafleur), whom Tom has known since his college days. Rosemary thinks Donald and May’s domesticated relationship is boring. Rosemary says she wants her relationship with Tom to be casual, to the point where she refuses to call him her “boyfriend” or “lover,” and instead calls Tom her “peeps.”
On the other hand, after Rosemary fends off unwanted sexual advances from one of the men in the commune house, she immediately moves in with Tom (she says it’s only temporary), making her not only dependent on Tom for her salary but also for a place to live—not exactly the actions of an independent free spirit who wants to keep things casual. There are so many things wrong with Rosemary and Tom’s relationship that it’s kind of repellent to watch. Even though Rosemary initially declines Tom’s offer to show her artwork in his gallery, she eventually accepts his offer after he convinces her that he thinks she’s genuinely talented.
Although it’s obvious that their relationship is consensual, it’s just not a good look when anyone (particularly a woman in this #MeToo era) gets a big career boost by sleeping with their boss. But this is a situation that will always exist as long as people have sexual hookups with people they work with in some way. It’s realistic, it can get messy, and it’s not going away just because of the #MeToo movement. There are countless young women just like Rosemary: Because of their relative lack of experience in the workplace, they aren’t really thinking about the long-term effects of dating co-workers or bosses. Rosemary is so flippant about it that when the gallery is closed to the public, she walks around wearing nothing on top but her bra, and she openly expresses her sexuality with Tom while around other employees. What Rosemary sees as flirty and fun in the workplace is what most other people would see as inappropriate and unprofessional.
To its credit, “Limerence” doesn’t dismiss the very real consequences of the unbalanced power dynamic when a boss sleeps with an employee. If the relationship is out in the open, and if the employee is female, her talent and merit will always be questioned by colleagues and business associates. Did she get that promotion or raise because she deserved it or because she was sleeping with the boss? Meanwhile, the boss (who’s usually male in these situations) has more power and is less vulnerable to the gossip that can taint people’s reputations, and therefore is more likely to bounce back if the relationship ends badly. There’s a great scene in “Limerence” that illustrates the very realistic resentment that’s churned up when Rosemary experiences the career fringe benefits of sleeping with Tom, and she gets a rude awakening that she (not Tom) is the one whose reputation is going to get the most damage because of it.
“Limerence” also throws in some complications by having underlying sexual tensions between Leo and Rosemary (he’s had a unrequited crush on her for years); between Donald and Rosemary (he’s fairly open about how attracted he is to her while still being faithful to his wife); and between May and Tom, who secretly had a drunken makeout years ago, before May and Donald got married. (Tom confesses this secret to Rosemary shortly after he and Rosemary hook up.) There are hints that May is still sexually attracted to Tom, but the feeling isn’t mutual. May and Donald are having their own issues in their marriage, since they’ve been trying to start a family, but their inability to conceive a child has caused tensions in their relationship.
Meanwhile, what rings less true is that viewers are supposed to believe that Tom falls so in love with Rosemary that he’s suddenly no longer interested in dating other women—a “redemption of the bad boy” fantasy narrative that’s pushed in so many movies of this type. However, Minoff does a skillful job in showing Rosemary’s transformation from commitment-phobe to someone who makes decisions that she didn’t think she would make in the name of love. One of the best lines in the film (which explains Rosemary’s two-sided character) is when she wonders aloud if the person she thinks she should be would hate the person she actually is.
Even with some of the emotional turmoil that happens in the movie, there’s plenty of snappy and genuinely laugh-out-loud funny dialogue that will engage viewers who are looking for some adult-oriented comedy. The final scenes in the third act of “Limerence” are the most poignant and authentic. In the end, “Limerence” is an appealing film about the complications of a woman on a journey of self-identity. The main takeaway from watching the movie is that even if people think they are very self-aware and comfortable with who they are, they can find out things about themselves that will surprise them.
Gravitas Ventures released “Limerence” on VOD, digital and DVD on January 7, 2020.