I sometimes find myself longing for the past. Escapism and nostalgia are cures for many present-day issues. They allow you to ignore your problems at hand and disappear into the hole of your past. But they are merely a band-aid on a much larger problem. It is okay to take a trip down memory lane, but you can’t let it define your life.
The Lost City stars Sandra Bullock as Loretta Sage, a best-selling romance novelist who despises the books she writes. Loretta uses her books as an excuse to isolate herself from the world and anyone who could possibly care about her, including Alan (a wonderful Channing Tatum) who serves as the cover model for main character ‘Dash’ from Loretta’s book series. Loretta, once a legitimate archeologist with her now deceased husband, views her books as a reminder of what she is not doing and, more importantly, who she is not doing it with anymore.
If this all sounds familiar, it probably should. Very little of The Lost City is uncovered territory. Loretta’s personality reminds of Bullock’s character in The Proposal, as does her treatment of male co-star and eventual love interest Alan. Her awkwardness and hidden, effortless beauty are straight out of Miss Congeniality. Opposite her, Tatum brings the comedic dunce of his character in the Jump Street franchise (coincidentally, a rebooted franchise that made an entire sequel with the meta premise of making fun of reboots and sequels), and the natural sweetness of his characters in Dear John and The Vow to The Lost City’s Alan.
Sticking with familiarity, the plot of The Lost City is relatively simple. An eccentric billionaire Abigail, played by a very un-Harry Potter Daniel Radcliffe, becomes convinced that Loretta can be her guide in the actual lost city her books are based on, which he’s found, and help him find a rare and valuable artifact. Abigail kidnaps Loretta and takes her to the city, with Alan trailing behind hoping to rescue Loretta and show the author in distress not to judge a book by its cover. Yes, they make that joke in the movie. The tone rarely shifts from light-hearted with romantic tension bubbling lightly at the surface.
But how they toe the line between nostalgia and originality is the biggest achievement of the film. Because, while we recognize these characters, Bullock and Tatum bring new twists to their characters that are refreshing. Alan isn’t nearly as dumb as the cliché version of the character typically is. What he lacks in obvious intelligence or wit he more than makes up for in emotional understanding. He may not know how to articulate it, but he knows what Loretta needs. On a micro level he provides her with sustenance after rescuing her. On a macro one, he understands her emotional ones. There is never a moment in the film when you aren’t rooting for him, which makes for a very easy and enjoyable watch.
Loretta is grounded in relatable experiences and emotions. Wanting to escape from a world that took the most important person from you is natural. As is feeling unfulfilled by what is ultimately her fallback career. Loretta longs for her past in a way every person has experienced. And it drives her actions as well as her interactions with those around her, who include not only Alan, but her publisher Beth (Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Office Christmas Party), and social media manager Allison (Patti Harrison, Together, Together), both of whom enhance the intended comedic tone.
Seeing Bullock and Tatum chemistry together really puts The Lost City over the top. Every conversation between the two feels surprisingly natural. The emotions of their arc feel earned and not manipulated. It’s easy to understand why Loretta is dismissive and indifferent towards Alan, but also to feel Alan’s frustration that Loretta won’t look a little bit closer and see the real him. Sometimes comedic chemistry can interfere with romantic tension; that is not the case here. You laugh at Loretta and Alan but you want them to fall in love.
Rounding out the relatively small cast are extended cameos by Oscar Nunez (The Office) and Brad Pitt (Fight Club, Ad Astra) both of whom are phenomenal. Nunez plays a pilot who gives Beth a comedic ride as well as some sage wisdom. And Pitt, at the top of his comedic game, plays a former Navy Seal Alan hires to help track down Loretta. Both of these supporting characters bring comic relief that makes the romantic comedy elements feel fresh.
The only miss for me is Radcliffe’s pencil-twirling villain Abigail, who never seems to find his place in the film. He is so transparent in his intentions he never really feels like a threat. A billionaire chasing more wealth doesn’t really move me as a real threat, and some family drama in his past is a weak motivation. What you’re left with is a sinister character in a light-hearted universe who treats everyone around him like dirt.
Ultimately, Loretta’s story, her actual one not the one she wrote, is one of redemption. In the beginning of the film, Alan refers to her as a “human mummy”. There is so much she hasn’t experienced in the second act of her life. The beauty of this movie is it doesn’t dismiss the feelings that are holding her back, if anything they are validated. But she learns the value in rejoining the world. Where her nostalgia for her old life once drove her, it is replaced by an appreciation and excitement for the unknown. The Lost City follows suit. There’s a lot that is familiar about this film, and it would have been incredibly easy to recycle tropes and play it safe. But between the characters, the adventures they go on, and the twists that occur along the way, there is more than enough new to make for a refreshing experience. And, most of all, it’s a ton of fun the whole way through.
The Lost City is in theaters now.