The Man with Rain in His Shoes

(aka If Only ..., Lluvia en los zapatos, María Ripoll, Spain/France/Canada/UK/Luxembourg, 1998)


There was an international vogue during the late '90s for romantic comedies with a supernatural twist. The Man with Rain in His Shoes arrives with a combination of the premises of Sliding Doors (1998) and Groundhog Day (1993) – since not only is Victor (Douglas Henshall) able to relive his disastrous love story differently, he also does so with full consciousness of the path not taken, and some of the potential problems up ahead in time.

Victor is a vain, self-obsessed actor whose meaningless infidelities drive away sweet Sylvia (Lena Headey). The supernatural element enters via two chattering, Spanish garbage men who pick the melancholic Victor out of a bin and spin him around until he hits the ground one year earlier. This time around, our try-hard hero does not confess his sins to Sylvia; instead, he hides them and quickly reforms his life, much to the puzzlement of all his professional and personal acquaintances.

From this point, The Man with Rain in His Shoes spins out two consequences of its time-travel premise – one predictable, the other more philosophical. Victor's growing angst in his newly revised autobiography comes from the fact that he cannot prevent Sylvia from meeting – and falling in love with – the man to whom she became engaged in the first version of reality. This leads to various overplayed outbursts of bumbling jealousy and pique from Victor.

The weightier consequence involves Victor's encounter with Louise (Penelope Cruz) – a woman with the patience of a saint, considering the run-around she gets from her confused and slippery boyfriend. Louise's disarming presence complicates the assumption of Victor – and of the romantic comedy genre – that certain people are soul mates just made for each other. As Victor sifts through his feelings towards Sylvia, Louise, and various other idealised figures in his universe, he has to figure out what a love partnership really is.

The Man with Rain in His Shoes cannot fail to elicit a reasonably warm reaction from a large cinema crowd, but it is ultimately more interesting for its ideas than its execution. María Ripoll's mannered direction imposes a self-consciously romantic and sensual Spanish-ness upon the London setting. This is a refreshing replacement for the usual British mundanity and drabness, but it results in a terribly twee film.

Most annoying of all is Henshall's constantly manic eye-popping, forehead-slapping, running-and-jumping performance. Where the women are constrained to smile and sulk in demure, well-dressed postures, Victor is meant to be the energy-principle of the piece. If this is what passes for grand screwball comedy these days, I can only hope that Mother Time gives us all a chance to go back and correct the artistic errors of the recent past.

© Adrian Martin December 1998

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
home    reviews    essays    search