REVIEW: Better Than the Movies by Lynn Painter
In this rom-com about rom-coms, a hopeless romantic teen attempts to secure a happily-ever-after moment with her forever crush, but finds herself reluctantly drawn to the boy next door.
Perpetual daydreamer Liz Buxbaum gave her heart to Michael a long time ago. But her cool, aloof forever crush never really saw her before he moved away. Now that he’s back in town, Liz will do whatever it takes to get on his radar—and maybe snag him as a prom date—even befriend Wes Bennet.
The annoyingly attractive next-door neighbor might seem like a prime candidate for romantic comedy fantasies, but Wes has only been a pain in Liz’s butt since they were kids. Pranks involving frogs and decapitated lawn gnomes do not a potential boyfriend make. Yet, somehow, Wes and Michael are hitting it off, which means Wes is Liz’s in.
But as Liz and Wes scheme to get Liz noticed by Michael so she can have her magical prom moment, she’s shocked to discover that she likes being around Wes. And as they continue to grow closer, she must reexamine everything she thought she knew about love—and rethink her own ideas of what Happily Ever After should look like.
Dear Ms. Painter,
The blurb doesn’t lie – this book really is like a rom-com movie and pays careful homage to some of the best. People who don’t care for them might want to think twice about reading this.From the movie quotes that begin each chapter to heroine Liz Buxbaums’s encyclopedic knowledge of them, those films are all through the story.
The blurb lays out the plot. Girl had crushed on boy, boy finally returns to town, girl thinks with a little help from an annoying neighbor she can snag crush for her prom date, boy helps girl, then girl discovers that she might not have realized who her real crush is. But it’s so cute and so funny that even though I could tell when the next plot point was about to pop up, I raced through it at top speed. To paraphrase a quote the true crush, “This book is formulaic, aspartame-infused, tropey garbage.” Which is exactly why I wanted to read it. And yeah Wes is a little impressive with his rom-com knowledge.
Is it realistic? Hell no. But then why do we watch these movies over and over if we know the plots, we know how things will go, and how they’ll end? Because they’re enjoyable and we want the charming HEA. We want to watch an obviously “perfect for each other” couple have to work through what is keeping them apart, almost miss their chance but pull things out at the end. No, I don’t think I’m really spoiling anything because most of us have seen at least some of these movies.
Liz is cute with her retro fashion style, miffed at her neighbor over a parking spot, besties with a supporting role friend, and totally hung up on the movies she used to watch with her (now dead) mother. Her mother actually used to write some of them. Now Liz is going to let what has influenced her for years dictate how she is going to try and land her dream prom date. Wes is the guy she’s seen from childhood as irritating but he’s her “ticket” to getting said date so Liz makes a deal and totally misses what’s right in front of her.
As we watch Wes doing all he can to make her happy, Liz makes us groan or growl in frustration at the clues she misses, the things she misunderstands, and the things she convinces herself about. Wes isn’t perfect but he’s darn near perfect for Liz as it’s clear to anyone with eyes that he’s gaga over her and has been for years. Yet Liz is completely oblivious – as the plot needs her to be.
But, but, but … it’s darling and I laughed and sighed at the two of them together with their sparks flying everywhere and Wes being hopeful that he’s making Liz happy even if it’s getting her together with another guy. “Come on, Liz, get your head out of the clouds!” I thought but knew I had to wait until the light broke through and she’d realized her true feelings and done a few things that all the best rom-com movies have heroes and heroines do to make things clear to their beloved.
However, this isn’t anything that a lot of us haven’t already seen and read before. What adds a lot to the book are Liz’s still tangled feelings of grief at the loss of her mother and how her father’s second wife (who isn’t an evil stepmother but a rather cool person) fits in with all the events of Liz’s senior year in high school that her mother ought to have been there to see. Liz also has another reason, which becomes more apparent as the story progresses, to crush on Michael beyond just “he’s so cute.”
Still Liz’s obsession with popular songs (few of which I know) and the use of current slang (which I often don’t bother to look up anymore but I’m not to the point of yelling at kids to get off my lawn, yet) will date this part of the book fairly quickly. There is what feels like a manufactured conflict between Liz and her friend Joss and the usual lack of parental presence for much of the action since this is YA. The thing that struck me most was the final main conflict between Liz and Wes which was totally “jump to the worst conclusions and hang on to them for dear life” plus a rushed ending. The book overall is cute and fluffy and a great way to spend some time catching favorite rom-com movie references but perhaps not anything that’s really new. On the other hand, I went into this knowing it was all about tropes so I can’t be too upset that this is what I got. B