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That Burning Feeling: A romcom with a twist

An uncomfortable diagnosis befalls the protagonist in That Burning Feeling. Resonance Films.

An uncomfortable diagnosis befalls the protagonist in That Burning Feeling. Resonance Films.

When you think of a premise for a romantic comedy, “sexually transmitted disease” is far from the first thing that comes to mind. But after watching hours and hours of contemporary romantic comedies on in-flight TV sets, one Vancouver filmmaker decided it was time to shake up the genre. Thus, the concept for That Burning Feeling was conceived – and months later, it was favourably received by audiences at the Vancouver International Film Festival in all its twisted glory.

The protagonist Adam Murphy (brilliantly portrayed by Paulo Costanzo) is a clean-cut Generation Y yuppie with a cushy real estate job and a modern open-concept condo. Not a care in the world befalls Adam, a notorious womanizer, until one morning, after yet another one of his sexual escapades he finds himself experiencing an unpleasant burning feeling. The embarrassing diagnosis sets an unexpected chain of events in motion for Adam, who is forced to rethink his worldview to get the girl of his dreams.

Director Jason James says the idea for the comedy rose as a sort of personal challenge. “I wanted to do something that challenges the romantic comedy genre, but still fits inside of it,” James told The Link in a phone interview. “I wondered, can you make a romantic comedy about the least romantic thing possible, and still make it funny and heartfelt and have it say something about the world?”

That Burning Feeling director Jason James. Resonance Films.

That Burning Feeling director Jason James. Resonance Films.

That Burning Feeling does indeed follow a predictable romcom story arc. However, James skillfully puts a tongue-in-cheek spin into every element of the story. Even the film’s title could be taken as a romantic banality, while actually describing a very unpleasant medical symptom.

Another element with a potential to make the film enjoyable to Vancouver audiences is a traceable presence of local motifs. Familiar surroundings can be recognized in multiple scenes; the recurring conflict of communities and condo developers can strike a note with any Vancouverite.

“You gravitate towards, and get inspired by things that surround you,” James said. “I’m interested in real people and real situations. I’m really inspired by comedy in reality, in a way.”

James said his intention was to bring out the ridiculous nature of marketing strategies for condominiums, inspired by real-life examples. “It’s ridiculous to have condo names like ‘The Artiste’ and ‘The Bohemian’ – people that live there aren’t bohemian, especially when each unit costs up to half a million dollars!” he said.

Adam Murphy’s role as a right hand to the real estate mogul (portrayed by John Cho of Harold and Kumar fame) is yet another tip of the hat to Vancouver lifestyles.

In addition to Adam’s self-assured yuppie, That Burning Feeling features a collection of quirky characters. There is Adam’s kooky doctor; the eccentric boss who speaks in faux Zen riddles; and, of course, Frank the neighbor, a flamboyant character reminiscent of Zach Galiafianakis’ Ray in Bored to Death.  While the female lead, played by Ingrid Haas, is a charming activist perfect for the protagonist’s transformation, Adam’s old flames steal the show – especially the eccentric Manic Pixie Dream Girl-type from the motor vehicle department (Emily Hampshire), and the cynical department-store hipster (Jordana Largy).

While the film weaves in many themes and motifs, Jason James says that its main storyline is one man’s search for authenticity.

“I know a lot of people my age who have found the right thing: they went to the right school, found the right job, bought the right minimalist condo, and what happens when you get to that point is that you are still not happy, you still don’t think you are where you should be. And you start over,” James explained.

While the film undoubtedly drives the main point home, it does so in a non-intrusive and comical way – unlike Adam’s gonorrhea medication.

This film is a triple-threat delight for those who enjoy a good romantic comedy and a genre-bending plot. If you missed a chance to watch Adam’s misadventures at the Vancouver International Film Festival, That Burning Feeling will be released in theatres at the end of 2013.