You may know actor Ryan Eggold from his role as Tom Keen on The Blacklist or possibly as the young teacher on the 90210 reboot a few years back (some of us are teens of the 90s and enjoyed the Nine-Oh nostalgia, okay?) This year, the 33-year-old actor stepped behind the camera as the writer/director/editor/composer/producer of Literally, Right Before Aaron, a film he describes as an anti-romantic comedy. I like to think of it as a dram-com-anti-rom.
L,RBA stars Justin Long (from the second-best Die Hard movie, Live Free or Die Hard (this is not up for debate)) as Adam, and Cobie Smulders (from How I Met Your Mother But Actually I’m in Love with Robin) as Allison. Adam’s life is thrown into a tailspin when his ex, Allison, calls to invite him to her wedding to Aaron, the guy she started dating literally right after him.
The audience scores on Rotten Tomatoes are more in line with my opinion of the film than those stuck up critic scores. Well, I’m no movie critic, we all know that, but I loved L,RBA. Many of the reviews I read seem to have missed the point: It’s not about the guy getting the girl, it’s about the guy getting what he really needs — self awareness. The movie is a journey, not a destination.
I had a chance to talk with Ryan Eggold about his directorial debut, and that conversation informs this top five list.
1. Justin Long sure isn’t short on charm.
Adam makes a lot of bad choices in this movie, and in less competent hands he could have been written off as unredeemable. “A lot of it has to do with Justin and his inherent charm and likeability that he brings to it, and all the fantastic choices he made as an actor,” Eggold told me. He said they both worried about whether they were crossing the line into unlikeable at times, but I think they found the perfect balance. “Movies are about times of change, and when that’s happening, you make the wrong decisions that lead to learning and figuring it out,” says Eggold. I say, amen. I love a movie that exists to show a character growing as a person.
2. The cast is insanely packed with talent.
Okay I told you about Long and Smulders, but would it interest you to learn that there are cameos of varying length from Ryan Hansen, John Cho, Kristen Schaal, Lea Thompson, Peter Gallagher, Luis Guzman, and Dana Delaney? Would you be further intrigued to hear there are even MORE great actors I didn’t name here? Yeah well I’m to convince you to see this movie, so good. “We got the greatest cast in the history of movies,” Ryan said, and I see where he’s coming from.
3. It’s not a comedy, per se, but there are so many funny moments.
Remember that list of people we just talked about? They’re all really funny. I can’t give you an example of the jokes here because they don’t make sense out of context, but I laughed a lot. I mentioned to Ryan that often the humor comes after a really awkward or sad moment. “That was definitely the goal, to be surprising and to not be afraid to be sad and then come with a laugh, or not be afraid to be laughing and then have something poignant happen,” he said. “The goal was to be lifelike in that way, that it all gets mixed up into one.”
4. The emotion feels achingly realistic.
Eggold wanted to examine the disparity between the idealized love portrayed in movies and songs as compared to the messier version we experience in real life. The whole reason he turned his 2011 short into this feature film was because of the response he got from strangers coming up to him saying they had felt exactly what he portrayed. For me, the movie is about being an active participant in your own life, and taking control of your own happiness. I also think the film brilliantly captures the feeling of struggling to connect. And I’ve never been to an ex’s wedding – I tend to follow a more scorched earth break up policy – but I sure know what it feels like to go to weddings alone, and this movie nails that feeling.
5. L,RBA is chock-a-block with references to The Graduate.
Eggold flirted with several other endings before settling on one, and even then he decided to change it up after they started shooting. The ending we see in the film is a fun twist on a scene from The Graduate (he told me how it was going to end but I’m not a thoughtless spoiler of plot points so I’ll keep it to myself, like a lady.) “Once that was there, we kind of leaned into it,” Ryan says of the nods to the classic 1967 film. “[The Graduate is] just one of those magical films that everyone can relate to because everyone’s been at that point in their life, of being stuck and sort of overwhelmed and trying to figure out which way to go.”
Bonus 6th Reason: Ryan Eggold and I are basically best friends now. This wasn’t something we discussed explicitly, but he said it meant a lot to hear my observations on the film and he appreciated talking to me. I don’t know how things work where you’re from, but in my neck of the woods, that’s tantamount to a declaration of best friendship. Please let me have this one, guys, my mom keeps saying I need more friends.
Oh! And speaking of new friends. Is there anyone out there who’s been checking in here but not commenting? If so, consider this your official invitation to join the conversation! We’d love to meet you. I’d also like to hear movie recommendations from everyone, old and new.