As the pilot for a failed ”Friends”-inspired sitcom, it might have been called ”England Made Me,” referring to an American tourist cutie, entangled with three London mates – unknowing competitors – and all the wacky misunderstandings that algebra allows for.
But the British romantic comedy The Very Thought of You has none of the smooth structural advantages of American relationship sitcoms, and none of the charms of clever British constructions like ”Sliding Doors,” either: It feels like a project first sketched on the back of a pub napkin by guys who actually believe the dating advice in Maxim magazine.
Worst, it features the dullest, least lifelike collection of pals this side of ”Eyes Wide Shut.” Martha (Monica Potter, recently seen beaming in ”Patch Adams”), running away from something or other back in Minneapolis (what? probably another tiresome reference to how Julia Robertsesque she is), meets rich, arrogant music exec Daniel (Tom Hollander) on her way to London.
Then, almost immediately upon setting foot in Heathrow, she meets Frank (Rufus Sewell), an out-of-work actor, and Laurence (Joseph Fiennes), a – well, we’re not sure what he is, except he’s struggling, sincere, good, loyal, shy, sensitive, tongue-tied, and has Joseph Fiennes’ eyelashes. (Made before those eyelashes fluttered in ”Shakespeare in Love,” the film has been dusted off Miramax’s reinforced shelf of moldering acquisitions.)
Sewell, at least, appears to be having a good time, popping his own considerable orbs and genially encouraging his cast mates to wake up. And director Nick Hamm (”Talk of Angels”), working from a script by Peter Morgan (”Poison Ivy”), makes strategic use of an unusually sunny London as an extension of romance itself. I’ve never seen nicer weather on that wet isle, or a soggier trio of suitors.