October 6, 2020
by Carla Hay
Directed by Adriana Trigiani
Culture Representation: Taking place in Scotland, the romantic comedy “Then Came You” features an all-white cast representing the middle-class and upper-class.
Culture Clash: An adventurous American widow who vacations at a Scottish castle inn has frequent tension-filled encounters with the cranky Scottish widower who is the inn’s homebody owner/manager.
Culture Audience: “Then Came You” will appeal primarily to people who like predictable romantic comedies that have a lot of corny and sappy moments.
“Then Came You” is the type of formulaic romantic comedy that could have been on the Hallmark Channel, except that “Then Came You” attempts to have a somewhat raunchier tone to the story. Even though the movie has some mild cursing and some vaguely bawdy sex talk, “Then Came You” (directed by Adriana Trigiani) is still as shamelessly cloying and trite as a cheap romance novel. It’s the kind of movie where you know exactly what’s going to happen, just by looking at the movie’s poster or trailer.
Former TV talk-show host Kathie Lee Gifford wrote the screenplay for “Then Came You,” and is a co-writer (with Brett James) of the movie’s original songs. Gifford is also a star and a producer of the movie, which looks like a Gifford vanity project used as an excuse for her to break out into song in every other scene. It should come as no surprise that Gifford’s Annabelle Wilson character in the movie used to be an aspiring singer/actress, just like Gifford was in real life before she became famous as a TV personality.
Annabelle is a fairly recent widow. Years ago, she gave up her dreams to be an entertainer and instead went into business with her husband Fred in Nantucket, Massachusetts, the suburban city where she was born and lived her entire life. Annabelle and Fred, who were married for 32 years and had no children, operated a successful hardware store together. Annabelle sold the business and their marital home after Fred died.
And now, she’s going on an adventurous trip to visit 20 places around the world that are the sites of her and Fred’s favorite movies. Annabelle and Fred were avid movie watchers, and this trip is her way of honoring Fred. Annabelle chose Scotland as the first stop on her trip, because of the 1995 Oscar-winning Scottish war movie “Braveheart,” directed by and starring Mel Gibson. But Annabelle hardly does any sightseeing. It’s obvious she wants to hang out at the inn where she’s staying because she becomes infatuated with the inn’s owner.
The opening scene of “Then Came You” features Annabelle booking her stay at a 400-year-old castle-turned-inn owned by a prickly and sarcastic Scot named Howard Awd (played by Craig Ferguson), a widower who inherited the castle from his father. Howard, who’s about the same age as Annabelle, actually holds the title of lord, but he doesn’t put on pretentious and snobby airs because of this title. He’s the opposite of polished: He’s scruffy, tattooed and is often very uncouth.
How rude is he? When he and Annabelle first meet in person and he tells her that he’s a widower, he describes his late wife as “a miserable sow.” And even though he has the title of lord, Howard isn’t rich. In fact, he’s having trouble keeping the inn financially afloat.
Annabelle and Howard’s first communication with each other is by email correspondence, which is read in voiceovers, when she books at her stay at the inn. Before she leaves for Scotland, she looks around at her empty house in Nantucket and says aloud: “I’ve got to make new memories, or the old ones will kill me. And I’m not ready to die yet.” These are the type of spoken lines, for better or worse, that people can expect in this hackneyed movie.
“Then Came You” hits all the same beats of dozens of other romantic comedies where two people who are opposites are very attracted to each other, but it takes them most of the story to do something about the attraction. And usually, there’s a big “obstacle” that keeps this would-be couple from being together when they first meet. In “Then Came You,” the “obstacle” is that Howard is not only engaged, but he’s also getting married just a few days after he and Annabelle meet.
Somehow, Howard doesn’t tell Annabelle this important information until days after they’ve been sort-of flirting with each other in that “I like you but I’m going to act as if I’m annoyed by you” way that would-be couples do in romantic comedies. Their banter is exactly what you would expect: They have petty disagreements because of their opposite personalities and interests (she’s an optimist who loves to travel; he’s a pessimist who’s a homebody), while they try and pretend that there’s no sexual tension between them.
Who is Howard’s fiancée? She is a haughty, self-centered social climber named Clare Hollings (played by Elizabeth Hurley), who has a complicated history with Howard. Clare and Howard dated each other when they were young, but Howard fell in love with and eventually married the woman who was Clare’s best friend and college roommate. After that, Howard and Clare weren’t really in each other’s lives for years, but they reconnected after Howard’s wife died.
Howard tells Annabelle that his marriage to Clare is going to be a marriage of convenience. Clare is marrying Howard because she wants the title of lady, while he will financially benefit from the marriage because Clare has a lot more money than Howard does, and Clare has offered to help save the inn from financial ruin. Annabelle asks Howard if he loves Clare and will be happy in this marriage, but he doesn’t really give her a straightforward answer except to say that he likes Clare enough to be married to her. Annabelle tries not to be judgmental, but it’s very obvious that she thinks the marriage will be a mistake.
Howard’s closest friend is the inn’s somewhat goofy handyman/butler Gavin Ferguson (played by Ford Kiernan), who has made it known that he doesn’t like Clare. Howard has a 29-year-old son named George (played by Calum Chisholm), who also disapproves of Clare—so much so, that George refuses to attend the wedding. When Annabelle meets Clare in person, Clare is predictably dismissive of Annabelle and treats Annabelle as a lower-class guest who isn’t worthy enough to be socializing with Howard. Clare is annoyed that Howard has invited Annabelle to their wedding.
As an example of how unrealistic this movie is, this lavish wedding is supposed to take place at the inn, but there are no signs of the wedding preparations until a day or two before the wedding takes place. These wedding preparations conveniently are shown in the movie only when Howard bothers to tell Annabelle that he’s getting married that weekend. It also doesn’t make sense that a fussy and domineering woman like Clare would allow her wedding to be prepared in such a rushed and haphazard way.
Annabelle tries to hide her disappointment about Howard being engaged to marry another woman, after Howard gave Annabelle the impression that he was a widower who was available. Any self-respecting person would see that Howard hiding his engagement/relationship status shows a lack of honesty and lack of respect to the women involved. It would be a major red flag to anyone who wants a trustworthy partner in the real world. Later in the movie, Howard confesses to Annabelle that he lied when he insulted his late wife: His wife wasn’t a shrew, but she was actually a loving and wonderful person.
But in a corny movie like this one, this type of dishonesty and disrespect is swept under the proverbial rug, all in the name of having a fairytale romance. When Annabelle asks Howard why he didn’t tell her sooner that he was engaged to another woman, he curtly tells Annabelle that because he’s not American like she is, he doesn’t tell people everything about his personal life when he first meets them. It’s an absurd excuse, but Annabelle just accepts it, like the lonely and desperate doormat that she is.
The movie goes out of its way to make some not-very-funny jokes about the differences between Scottish and American cultures. In one part of the movie, Gavin and Annabelle have a little tiff over something, and Gavin calls her “stubborn,” while adding, “And I thought us Scots had a monopoly on that bullshit.” And there’s a running joke in the movie that Annabelle wears over-the-top tartan clothing, in an attempt to try to “fit in” with the Scots, but she just looks like she’s wearing some very bad parody costumes instead of comfortable clothing.
Another sight gag that works better in the movie is Annabelle’s special Whitman’s Sampler chocolate box, which she carries with her everywhere she goes, because her late husband Fred’s favorite movie was the 1994 Oscar-winning drama “Forrest Gump,” starring Tom Hanks as the title character. For people who haven’t seen “Forrest Gump,” it’s explained that the movie’s most famous line is when chocolate-loving Forrest Gump says, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.” But Annabelle doesn’t have chocolates in that Whitman’s Sampler box. The box contains Fred’s ashes.
Howard thinks it’s creepy that Annabelle doesn’t have the ashes in an urn or another traditional container. Annabelle explains that it would be weird to carry an urn with her in public, so she uses the box of chocolates as the container for the ashes so that she won’t get strange reactions from people. As soon as the movie makes a big deal of showing Annabelle being overly attached to her husband’s ashes, you just know it’s going to be an issue at some point in the story.
When Howard asks Annabelle what her favorite movie is, she tells him it’s the 1968 film “Funny Girl,” starring Barbra Streisand. Howard quips that he’s glad her favorite movie isn’t “Psycho,” or else he’d have to keep her away from the shower. Annabelle tells him that’s okay because she prefers baths. This is an example of the “tit-for-tat” banter that takes place between Annabelle and Howard. It’s supposed to be reminiscent of old-school wisecracking romantic comedies, but most of the dialogue in “Then Came You” is just witless and dull.
Some of the dialogue of the film tries to be “edgy,” but it comes off as very juvenile, which is an embarrassment to people who are old enough to know better. In one scene, Annabelle, Howard and Gavin are hanging out together in a parlor at the inn. They are all tipsy from drinking alcohol. Annabelle says that her mother used to tell Annabelle that she was proud of Annabelle for having a lot of “spunk” in her.
Gavin and Howard start giggling, and Annabelle doesn’t understand why they think what she said is so funny. Then they tell her that “spunk” is slang for semen. Annabelle says she’s never heard of that before in her life. However, in the real world there actually are many Americans who know that “spunk” can be slang for semen. It’s yet another poorly written attempt at making a joke out of the differences between American and Scottish cultures.
And there’s some more bad dialogue in the movie, such as when Annabelle asks Howard, “Why are you drunk?” He replies, “Because I’ve had a lot of alcohol.” And then in another scene, a babbling Annabelle says, “You know what the trouble with trouble is? You don’t know you’re in trouble until you’re in trouble.” Annabelle and Howard drink quite a bit of alcohol in the movie, which should come as no surprise to people who know about Gifford and her former “Today” co-host Hoda Kotb and their habit of openly drinking alcohol on their morning TV show.
In addition to the unimpressive dialogue, another cringeworthy thing about the movie is when Annabelle takes it upon herself to help out with plumbing repairs in the inn (which has faulty faucets and sometimes no running water), her repair activities are used as sexual innuendos. When she goes into the basement for the repairs, Annabelle grunts, thrusts and gets wet from the pipe water, as the movie’s soundtrack plays screwball sex comedy music. Annabelle presumably wants to help with the repairs because she has a hardware background, but it’s completely illogical that a guest like Annabelle would volunteer to do such menial and dirty repairs. Unless she’s in a movie where her plumbing repair activity is used as a metaphor for her having sex.
And about Gifford’s singing, which is awkwardly scattered throughout the film: It’s a very “cruise ship performer” style of singing that won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. She sings in the bathtub. She sings at a pub. She sings in front of people who don’t ask her to sing. And there’s a scene where Gifford and co-star Ferguson trade off singing verses of the same song in separate rooms, while she’s in the bathtub and he’s in the shower, as if they think they’re in a Doris Day/Rock Hudson musical.
To the movie’s great credit, “Then Came You” absolutely makes Scotland look gorgeous, thanks to the cinematography of Reynaldo Villalobos. But this isn’t a travelogue video. The movie is a maudlin romantic comedy that’s only as bearable as how much someone is willing to tolerate the schmaltziness of it all. There’s also an unnecessary subplot involving DNA test results.
Gifford tries very hard be “cute” and “sexy” in this movie, but there’s nothing really “cute” or “sexy” about a woman who’s treated like an easily manipulated ditz by a miserable, dishonest man who reluctantly lets her into his heart. There’s a specific audience for this type of outdated romance and this type of cornball movie. If you want a romantic comedy that realistically shows that men don’t have to be jerks and women don’t have to be desperate to fall in love, then you’ll have to look elsewhere, because “Then Came You” panders to the worst rom-com stereotypes.
Vertical Entertainment released “Then Came You” in U.S. cinemas for one night only through Fathom Events on September 30, 2020, and then on digital and VOD on October 2, 2020.