SXSW 2022: The Lost City

Directed by: Aaron Nee, Adam Nee
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures

Written by Anna Harrison

65/100

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: a romance novelist somehow gets caught up in a nefarious plot in a tropical location, an attractive man gets dispatched to rescue her, and the two fall in love as they make their way through the jungle. This is in fact the plot for “The Lost City,” but if you think it sounds like “Romancing the Stone”—don’t worry, the writers and directors think so too. 

Loretta Sage (Sandra Bullock) is a widowed romance writer who believes her best days are behind her. The passion left with her husband, and now she prefers to sit in her bathtub and drink iced champagne despite the best efforts of her publicist, Beth (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), to get Loretta back out in the world. Loretta’s cover model, Alan (Channing Tatum), however, is still riding high on the adoration of Loretta’s fans, and his rippling abs get far more attention than Loretta’s careful research on the titular Lost City (of D, no less), the setting of her latest book. 

While her fans may care more about Alan’s overlong blonde wig than Loretta’s archaeological background, her book does attract the attention of eccentric British billionaire Abigail Fairfax (Daniel Radcliffe, continuing his post-“Potter” habit of choosing usually delightful and always unexpected projects—I love this guy), who kidnaps Loretta and sets her to work finding the Lost City (of D). Alan, wishing to prove himself as worthy as Dash, the character he portrays on Loretta’s covers, sets off to find her with help from Loretta’s editor Beth (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) and Brad Pitt. 

Of course Alan and Loretta fall in love over the course of this rescue, but if you wanted something subversive, go see another movie. Bullock is as solid as ever, a bit prickly but very fun, and Tatum shines in a role he’s tailor-made to play: a—to use some internet parlance—himbo. He may be dumb as a box of rocks when it comes to… well, most everything, but he’s emotionally intelligent and, most importantly, he cares, the two most important things in a romcom leading man. He’s also a feminist who thinks women should be able to mansplain just like men do, and there’s nothing sexier than a champion of gender equality. 

The chemistry between Bullock and Tatum carries the film as it goes into its wobblier latter half, where the humor loses a bit of steam. (The funniest scene comes early in the film where Patti Harrison, playing Loretta’s social media assistant, drunkenly slurs, “Hey, slut!” to Beth’s 90-year-old grandmother.) The deeper we get into the actual plot, the less interested we are because it takes away from watching Sandra Bullock pick leeches off of Channing Tatum’s ass, but such is the curse of romcoms—no one watches for the plot, c’mon, though at least this one has some good anticolonial sentiment running in its veins and remains hyper self-aware of its genre and homages.

Even outside of the debt it owes to “Romancing the Stone,” “The Lost City” feels like a throwback in many ways. There’s no big brand name attached to it (except for its stars), there’s no greater mythos, it didn’t break the bank to make. Sometimes all you want to do is watch some movie stars say and do funny things and then kiss a bit at the end, and what more do you need?

“The Lost City” Trailer

“The Lost City” was screened as part of the 2022 edition of the SXSW Film Festival and is currently playing in wide release.

You can follow more of Anna’s work on LetterboxdTwitterInstagram, and her website.

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