Mała wielka miłość (Expecting Love): Movie Review

My god that was disappointing. I’m tempted to leave this review at that, along with a stern warning not to part with folding money in exchange for a viewing, but I suppose I should say a little more.

I say ‘disappointing’ because I was really looking forward to this movie and because it completely failed to satisfy any of my expectations. The central premise has an amoral young lawyer from California called Ian (Joshua Leonard) falling in love with a sweet Polish girl called Joanna (Agnieszka Grochowska), moving to Poland, and experiencing humorous ‘culture shock’ type situations. There’s a great and very funny movie to be made from that story, but this ain’t it boys and girls.

Ian (Joshua Leonard) and Joanna (Agnieszka Grochowska) completely failing to convince anyone that they’re in love.

Expecting Love is some kind of joint US-Polish production. I’m guessing it wasn’t a happy cooperation. Certainly the end result resembles a poorly stitched together Frankenstein’s monster rather more than a seamless marriage. It looks and sounds exactly like a classic American romantic comedy, but the story is shot through with jarringly unpleasant themes and characters. It’s a queasy combination, rather like taking a huge gulp of what you think is apple juice only to discover it’s actually rusty turpentine with 27 spoon-fulls of sugar in it.

Case in point. Joanna, when she discovers she’s pregnant, persuades Ian to come to Poland by pretending she’s under age and thereby laying him open to a charge of statutory rape. Now, I can imagine a darkly humorous movie in which this idea might play, but it just doesn’t fit in the kind of movie where the hero and heroine have their first big kiss when they get caught in the rain and the heroine has to have a slightly camp gay friend (Marcin Bosak). It’s like watching some bizarre collision between Will and Grace and Decalogue 6.

Caught in the rain = romantic kiss.

The most annoying thing about this movie is that, occasionally, it demonstrates how good it could have been. The scenes in which Ian runs into language problems with immigration officials and the police are very nicely played (Maciej Kowalewski and Maciej Wierzbicki are good here, don’t know if they’re already well-known). But even here there’s a weird disconnect between the sweet and glossy tone and the cops beating seventeen kinds of crap out of Ian when then find him sleeping on a bench. Okay, I’ll watch the movie in which the Polish police beat the stuffing out of a lost foreigner and then bung him in the klink and I’ll watch the movie in which the Polish police are charmingly bumbling fellows who offer a lost foreigner a cell to sleep in for the night, but put them both in the same movie and I get a headache in my sense of humor.

Mikołaj Grabowski doing acting, Agnieszka Grochowska apparently dead.

If I may gripe further. Agnieszka Grochowska is appalling, she delivers her English lines as if she was reading from a phonetic autocue and completely fails to engage the audience. Frankly I didn’t care in the slightest if Ian paid for her operation or left her to turn tricks on Poznańska. Warsaw is portrayed as consisting entirely of a short stretch of Krakowskie Przedmieście, a completely atypical suburban street somewhere in Żoliborz, and the roof garden of the university library. After months of teaching English to Polish students Ian still can’t pronounce ‘tata.’ If he really tried to live in that flat he’d be dead from frostbite by the middle of December. I didn’t like it… you may be getting that message by now.

Final verdict: If you can manage it without paying watch it up until the part with the police then give up, nothing remotely funny or interesting happens after that.

More Polish movie reviews? You have uncanny luck today!

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19 thoughts on “Mała wielka miłość (Expecting Love): Movie Review

  1. darthsida says:

    1. The kissers in the rain: and why would they have to carry that load of books? Was their public library under some terrorist attack? Could they not afford a removal company to relocate their own stuff? Were the books to represent their current bedtime reading? Should the last option be the case, then the film is not a comedy, but a pastiche, the Hot Shots or Spy Hard kind of thing. Americans don’t read that much. They make movies instead.

    2. “statutory rape”, can’t say I got it. Which American State was he from / in? And she wants him to go back to Poland because there is not a single unlawful sexual relation under relevant Polish codes, or? And Americans extradite their citizens? And he could not make it for Paris (to meet Roman Polanski)?

    3. “After months of teaching English to Polish students Ian still can’t pronounce ‘tata.’” — Maybe he did not like Hannibal Lecter (“I’m sure we’ll have a lot of fun. Ta-ta, H.” Or maybe he’s a Jaguar owner and patriotically angry his car ain’t British any more.

    Thanks for the warning, Island.

  2. scatts says:

    “I was really looking forward to this movie”

    A rom-com? I’m worried about you, Island! You need to get out of Krakow for a while and come visit a man’s city! :)

  3. pinolona says:

    It’s taken you a long time to finish this one, Island – even I was in Poland when it came out in the cinema. I almost vomited into my popcorn it was so terrible but my sentimental friend loved it so there you go.

  4. Pawel says:

    I’m surprised you liked the scenes with police and administration being arrogant etc. This is an old trick in Polish cinema – I hated it and thought makers of this movie wanted to rip off classic Polish comedies (which they did very poorly).

    I think the film should be judged in its own category. It belongs to those movies which are being made for Polish soap opera watchers or Harequin readers. (This also explains why Warsaw there is so beautiful, while the reality is… reality).

    And I actually liked the scenes with family best (esp. the last bit).

    The gay best friend was really tacky in this movie, and once more reminded me what Polish filmmakers do to gay characters! AAAAARGH!!

  5. Lena says:

    I saw this film – I don’t think is any better or worse then many this kind of American romantic comedies.
    Just a simple, funny comedy you can watch to relax and then forget about it.

  6. island1 says:

    darthsida: 1. No illusions need be shattered – the books are hers not his and I think she’s supposed to have just bought them not borrowed them. This demonstrates that she is smart and studious (although not that smart since her dad actually owns a book shop) and that carrying a big pile of heavy books is funny and sweet, especially when you get caught in the rain.

    2. It’s one of the many plot devices that doesn’t actually make any sense. We never see her in America. She discovers she’s pregnant when she gets back to Poland, phones him up and says “hey, I’m pregnant and under age.” I have no idea why anybody, real or fictional, would have thought this was a good idea.

  7. island1 says:

    scatts: “Really looking forward to” in the sense that it was inevitably going to form part of my DVD consumption under the statutory ’50 percent girlfriend’s choice’ rule – which, by the way, is a rip off because I’m still not allowed to get Rambo out.

  8. island1 says:

    Pawel: The very brief scene with the comedy policemen was the only bit I enjoyed, so maybe it took on an overly elevated status in my mind. I’m not surprised to hear it was a rip off though.

    The ‘comedy’ gay friend was utterly appalling. He was like a nuclear cliche bomb. But then so were all the other characters.

    The family scenes reminded me of Two Days in Paris, only much shorter and much more poorly done.

  9. island1 says:

    Pinolona: I only just saw it. One of those situations in which people vaguely mentioned that there was a film about a foreigner living in Warsaw but couldn’t remember the title, or if they did remember the title I instantly forgot it. I was quite excited when I finally happened across it in the DVD shop several months later.

  10. scatts says:

    “I was quite excited when I finally happened across it in the DVD shop…..”

    There you go again! Go on admit it, you’re a rom-com fan, nothing to do with the girlfriend at all. :)

  11. Romain says:

    Talking about cinema (more or less), Norman Davies was in Kraków’s Kijów two days ago. Saying that Poles like history is a nice euphemism !

    May tell you more about this if I manage to find some time, otherwise, hello from Kraków ;)

  12. DC says:

    Hey Island –

    You seem to be a bit of a movie fan. Do you ever watch older stuff? Would you mind if I asked for recommendations? I am particularly interested in anything set in the 70s or 80s which touches on how people managed to live under communism in Poland. Unfortunately my Polish is primitive, so if I can find films that have been released abroad I might find English or German subtitles.

    Being in the States, I find I have to dig pretty deep to find this kind of thing. If you have tips I would be grateful.

    –dave

  13. Pawel says:

    DC,
    I have “Sexmission” with English subtitles if you’re interested.

  14. DC says:

    Pawel –

    I just checked Netflix and I can get that one here. Thanks for the tip. Sounds like a horror movie after reading the description. ;-)

    –dave

  15. Pawel says:

    I noticed Netlix says it’s 2004 film while it was made in 1984. It’s a sci-fi comedy:)

    Dr Who meets George Orwell + laughs

    It won’t actually picture conditions people lived in in the 80s but I think this is the most watchable Polish calssic comedy film for foreigners:)

    I’m just surprised cencorship didn’t see through that authoritarian women-state in the film to see a critique of communist state.

    ==

    For something placed in comunist period how about:
    “Miś”
    “Nie lubię poniedziałku”
    Although foreign people usually think these films show actual conditions, while its largerly exagerrated.
    or the legendary picture of peasant life “Sami swoi”

  16. DC says:

    Pawel – That’s very helpful. Many thanks.

  17. Sylwia says:

    DC, try Decalogue TV series directed by Kieślowski, and Man of Marble and Man of Iron by Wajda for dramas. They should be on Amazon.

    Especially Decalogue is worth watching, as it’s simply one of the best TV series in history. It’s rated 9.2 on IMDB http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0092337/

  18. island1 says:

    DC: Sorry, I missed this plea. I’m far from an expert but I would certainly back the recommendations made so far by others. Decalogue is well worth a look, although it’s not exactly uplifting stuff (apart from the last one, which is kind of comedy).

  19. DC says:

    Sylwia, Island

    Excellent, thanks. They showed Decalogue here at the National Gallery of Art a few years back and I missed it, then forgot about it completely. However gloomy, I look forward to it.

    I remember seeing Man of Marble many years ago and liking it. Time to see it again. Man of Iron will be new for me. I picked up Katyń when I was in Poland last month – I got tired of waiting for the US release.

    –dave

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