Available (2013) – By Philip Smolen

Life has knocked Anka Nowicki (Alexa Yeames) down pretty hard. At the end of her junior year of college her obnoxious boyfriend Lance (Richard Spencer) breaks up with her because he’s graduating. A few minutes later, she receives a call from her hometown police to inform her that both her parents were just killed in a car crash. Devastated, Anka goes back home for the summer to mourn her parents and take over their family billboard rental business while she decides what to do with her life. While working at her family’s office, she gets a call from Ralph (Gordon Palagi) who has driven past one of her family’s blank billboards that says “Available.” Dopey Ralph innocently thinks that the empty billboard and phone number is a singles ad! After being set straight, Ralph goes to Anka’s office the next day to actually inquire about renting the billboard for his family’s pizzeria. While there, Anka is accosted by Lance who wants to get back together with her. Anka angrily admonishes Lance and tells him that Ralph is her new boyfriend. Stunned, Ralph begins to warm up to Anka and sets about helping her as best he can. But as Ralph’s feelings for Anka deepen, he’s not sure if Anka has also developed feelings for him.

“Available” is a new romantic comedy from writer/director Michael Gibrall, the creator of “The Learning Curves” TV pilot (for my review, please go here). Like that show, the film features some novel elements, including the way that Anka and Ralph get together. This “meet cute” scene is one of the film’s highlights. It is also refreshing that Gibrall presents Anka and Paul as responsible mature young people who aren’t just trying to get what they can from each other.

But the film never really blossomed for me. Gibrall mostly falls back on familiar rom-com characters including the obnoxious ex-boyfriend, the nasally-voiced whining best friend and the boisterous “ethnic family” (think of Nia Vardalos’s family in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” [2002]). What worse is that the film’s situations are so predictable that it’s not hard to figure out exactly what direction the movie is headed.

It’s also a shame that the cast is largely unremarkable. While Alexa Yeames and Gordon Palagi make a physically appealing couple, they both are unable to dig deeper into their characters’ motivations. Donna Castellano and Carlo Fiorletta try their best as Ralph’s loving parents, but don’t bring much to their roles. Only Richard Spencer as Anka’s insufferable ex conveys any intensity to his character.

If you like romantic comedies and are looking for one that features a few fun situations, set-ups and an especially sweet ending, you will enjoy “Available.” But to me the film is a letdown. While watching it I was hoping to feel a great rush of emotion. Instead, “Available” made me feel like I was going to the senior prom with my sister.

For more information on “Available”, please visit: https://www.facebook.com/availablethemovie