Bad Cupid (aka Prick’d) (2021)

“I’ve got news for you, Davey: Cupid does not exist,” says Morris (Briana Marin) to Dave (Shane Nepveu) some way into Diane Cossa and Neal Howard’s Bad Cupid (aka Prick’d). “And if he did, he certainly wouldn’t be some freak pudgy guy in a diaper running around bringing people together who are destined to spend an eternity with one another.”

Bed-hopping, commitment-phobic lesbian Morris is entirely cynical about love, and determined that her younger cousin needs to move on from his ex Denise (Christine Turturro) who, after all, unceremoniously dumped him over a year ago and has had nothing to do with him since. Dave has other ideas, and is about to head over from the bar where he has been drinking with Morris to the building opposite and declare his love once more. It is a hopelessly romantic gesture, but Dave is about to learn that Denise has her heart set on somebody else and will soon – indeed, later this very day – be married to him. 

Morris, however, was only half right about Cupid. For he does indeed exist, but is a schlubby, foul-mouthed, middle-aged guy (the brilliant John Rhys-Davies) dressed in coat and bright red kicks – and he is sitting at the very same bar as the cousins, with a pistol in his pocket, a red Classic 1940 Ford Coupe parked outside, and Denise’s fiancé Henry (Claybourne Elder) bound and gagged in a cubicle of the establishment’s bathroom. Over this long wedding day, ‘Archie’, as Cupid likes to call himself, is going to teach Dave a lesson in tough love. 

Like Max Ophüls’ La Ronde (1950) or Victor Levin’s Destination Wedding (2018), Bad Cupid is both romantic comedy, and an inversion of that genre’s usual tropes. The film’s prologue takes place at that most celebrated lover’s spot, Niagara Falls, except that it is off season, snowy even, and Archie, wielding a baseball bat, intervenes not to support a marriage proposal being given there, but to undermine it – and to reveal that he has the tuxedo’d Henry trussed up and bloody in his car’s boot. Cut to “one year earlier”, and instead of witnessing the classic ‘meet-cute’ between Dave and Denise, we first encounter them as they are breaking up, the romance already gone. In a film whose very title evokes Terry Zwigoff’s wickedly mean-spirited Christmas movie Bad Santa (2003), here love does not follow a conventional path, although it will nonetheless eventually find a way, as cantankerous, violent Archie proves better than he first seems to be at the mysterious, age-old task of match-making.

Bad Cupid is set mostly in Dave’s home city of Buffalo, but it also features a brief consolatory trip with Morris to Las Vegas where the ever-moping Dave has an actual meet-cute with the lovely Stella (Amelia Sorensen) – also, by a providential piece of good fortune, from Buffalo – only for his chances to be sabotaged by his unresolved longing for Denise. A sizeable portion of the story unfolds in a bar’s toilet, and is devoted to such unerotic subjects as abduction and possible murder, while even Dave’s actual amatory pursuits are disruptively peppered with semi-metaphorical discussions of deli takeout (much as the film’s live action is occasionally punctuated with animated inserts). Archer Archie uses a range of unexpected weapons (club, gun, toilet plunger!) before finally adopting a (stolen) crossbow to deliver his iconic arrow – into a character’s buttock. All of which is to say that the film goes out of its way to appear anti-romantic, always rubbing the high ideals of love against the dirty parts of reality. Yet the results are comic, and indeed romantic, while highlighting the more unhinged aspects of desire, and the extreme lengths to which it can drive people. 

Dave’s hope to win Denise over with ‘a big movie moment’ leads him to attempt to stop her marriage at the altar, in a self-conscious reprise of the climactic sequence from The Graduate (1967) – but Mike Nichols’ film, famously, ended on a bleak note of despair, whereas Crossa and Howard allow Dave, though a series of wild coincidences that may or may not be the result of cosmic intervention, ultimately to see what destiny has (twice) put right there in front of him as opposed to the elusive pipe dream that he persists in chasing beyond all reason. It is not that romance is dead, it is just that it is not where he is looking – and sometimes, in order to have their full effect, love’s wounds must be real enough to require an ambulance.

© Anton Bitel