I suppose you can give this movie a few points for taking an unconventional approach to romantic comedy. Instead of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, The Very Thought of You gives us boy moons over girl, girl exploits and then blows off boy, girl throws herself at second boy, second boy shows all the genuine interest of a big Judy Garland fan, girl meets cute with third boy, third boy finds out that acting like Billy Crystal from When Harry Met Sally doesn't actually work with women, girl guilts second boy into giving her another chance, girl runs away from second boy and then runs back to him. Oh, and boys 1, 2 and 3 are all lifelong friends, which girl doesn't discover until it's far too late.
All that's rather convoluted and the sequence of events and the behavior of girl and her three boys often doesn't hold up under scrutiny, but it's certainly different and more involved than what you usually get in a romantic comedy. These filmmakers were so focused on being unconventional, though, they forgot that rom-coms live or die on two very simple points.
1. Does the audience want to see boy and girl get together?
2. Can you keep them from getting together until the end of the movie in an entertaining way?
These filmmakers never answer those questions in the affirmative, nor do they seem to even understand those questions are being asked in the first place.
Martha (Monica Potter) is a Minneapolis girl who flies to London to escape a life of quiet desperation. In short order she meets Daniel (Tom Hollander), who moons over her; Laurence (Joseph Fiennes), who responds to her overt flirtations with all the energy of a damp sponge; and Frank (Rufus Sewell), a miserable git who wants to bed her out of spite but whose wooing technique is only slightly more advanced than dipping her pigtails in the teacher's inkwell.
In truth, you can see the potential for a successful rom-com here. Monica Potter is more than cute enough and Tom Hollander and Rufus Sewell are appealingly pathetic as the obstacles that get in between Martha and Laurence. Joseph Fiennes is sort of a dud, but that's more because Laurence is such a dud. What keeps The Very Thought of You from being even marginally effective are some really terrible storytelling decisions.
To start with, Martha and Laurence don't even meet each other until you're nearly halfway through the film. First the movie is all about Martha and Daniel, then Martha and Frank, then it focuses on just Martha before finally getting around to the two people who are supposed to get together at the end. By that time, however, you really can't give a crap. You've seen too little of Laurence to care what happens to him and you've see too much of Martha to believe it when she swoons over him like a 1950s teenybopper over Frank Sinatra.
This film is also a bit nonlinear, showing us Daniel and Frank's encounters with Martha and then jumping back in time to show us what was going on with Laurence and Martha at the same time. It's not confusing to the audience, but these filmmakers must have lost track of what was going on because there are at least a few occasions where characters act like they know things they shouldn't have learned yet in the story. In particular, Laurence's decision to run away from Martha for the first time doesn't make any sense based on the information available to him at that moment.
And while I've already mentioned it, let me emphasize how weird it is that when Martha falls head over heels for Laurence, he responds to her for a long time like a gay guy who hasn't yet come out of the closet. When Laurence finally starts showing some interest in her, it's so abrupt and total a change that it's like he got a steel bolt shoved into his brain that altered his personality.
This movie isn't as painful to sit through as some disastrous rom-coms I've seen, but you won't care a whit if boy and girl get together, stay apart or get kidnapped by clowns and forced to perform a geek act in the carnival.