Despite its formulaic nature, making a decent romcom isn’t easy to do. It’s the reason films like When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle remain mainstays, classics of happily ever after, while so many other entries disappear into oblivion.
Writer/director Rachel Israel makes her feature debut and her submission to this venerated genre with Keep the Change, the story of a privileged bachelor and the court-ordered community service that upends his comfortable existence. It may not live up to the Notting Hills of the world, but it’s a sweet 90 minutes of will they / won’t they that would be a charming way to spend any date night.
We learn early on that David (Brandon Polansky) has been sent to a community center support group, though why exactly we don’t know at first. It’s a support group for adults who need a bit of guidance in social situations; we don’t get diagnoses on everyone in the group, but it’s clear there’s a healthy representation of the Autism spectrum here. The film’s earliest charms are found in the matter-of-fact way this group is represented. Sure, there’s some awkwardness and unexpected complications, but it’s immediately clear that none of this is Israel’s focus. And so, neither is it ours.
In an attempt to draw out connections between group members, the facilitator assigns David and group-mate Sarah (Samantha Elisofon) a field trip of sorts, to explore the Brooklyn Bridge and report back on their shared experience. David is having none of it, but Sarah (who acknowledges her own Autism and the impact it has on her life) persists and soon the two are crossing the bridge between boroughs. Soon, too, David finds Sarah’s perseverance and outgoing personality charming, falling for her in ways he never anticipated.
In true romcom fashion, all is not so easy on the road to ending up together. David’s wealthy parents, who’ve supported him well into his adulthood, are less than enthusiastic about his newfound love, pushing back against his proclamations of marriage after just a few weeks with Sarah. And Sarah has a past of her own to be reckoned with; being on the spectrum doesn’t mean she’s not a sexual, sensual being, and she’s evidently embraced that side of herself over the years.
It all comes to a head when David finally sees his cousin Matt, a charming and handsome actor David has spent the duration of the film idolizing and talking up. At a family party on the shore one evening, he finally gets the chance to introduce Sarah to Matt and his fiancé, and in a moment the flush of new love vanishes from David’s eyes. Among these beautiful people, he sees Sarah the way they must: different and odd and inappropriate and, perhaps worst of all, unloveable.
It’s a moment of truth for David, and I won’t spoil it by saying which side of the fence he lands on. What is worth noting is that Israel, with heartfelt performances from her new lovers, delivers an original romantic comedy that achieves something quite unique: it works.