Dear Elizabeth review – famous name decorates warm-hearted loser comedy

Hapless Sid tries inviting famous one-time pal Elizabeth Banks to his college reunion. Nothing goes to plan – but the film retains real warmth

The Hunger Games’ Elizabeth Banks is an unexpected choice as the muse of this Canadian comedy-drama, adapted from Michael Kun’s pre-social media-era novel about a sadsack software worker’s obsession with Heather Locklear – who, to be honest, was more front-and-centre than Banks in the zeitgeist of her day. Debut director Scott Abramovitch’s gentle film is less a look at digital-age fandom than an affable primer on accepting your own unremarkableness.

Sid Straw (Tony Hale) is pootling along in his job as VP of marketing at a generic firm, waving/drowning on the midlife dating scene, and irritating his sister-in-law Janet (24’s Elisha Cuthbert) with his try-hard perkiness. So when he is called to organise a college reunion, he spies a golden opportunity to bolster his standing: by persuading his famous one-time pal Elizabeth Banks to attend. He begins leaving messages on her Facebook page, oversharing about his personal life and invariably signing off with “Eat wheaties!”; the special farewell the future Hollywood star would shout out to the volleyball team.

But the hapless desk-jockey doesn’t realise the posts are public. As Sid’s professional life unravels, Hale forestalls what might have been a satirical pile-on with deft attentiveness to the nerves and eagerness to please behind the droopy moustache. He’s helped by Abramovitch’s fastidious characterisation, perhaps left over from its literary origins; there is lived-in detail everywhere, including a voicemail scene reminiscent of Swingers, in which Sid’s hands-free attempts to call “Kate, My Girlfriend” end up in “Ray’s Skate Land”.

There’s a kind of bravery in having Sid remain an unfailingly nice guy, even when his world is collapsing and he calls on the service of a slovenly lawyer (Paul Walter Hauser). But maybe giving him some darker traits, a hint of stalker obsession, would have pushed Dear Elizabeth’s comedy into something more radically funny, instead of just being briskly amusing. The sitcom-ish direction drags it further in the direction of complacency, but Hale and the focused writing ensure it has a kind-hearted integrity.

• Dear Elizabeth is available on digital platforms on 14 November.


Phil Hoad

The GuardianTramp

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