2022 has been a soft revival of the rom-com genre of sorts. Marry Me, The Lost City and the one I’m most anticipating, Ticket to Paradise (for obvious reasons to anyone who knows me) have all brought something to the table in a genre that’s been lacking new ideas and a presence in the mainstream media. Long gone are the days of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan releasing banger-after-banger but Alex Lehmann gives his best shot at combining the chemistry of Hanks and Ryan with the emotional hook of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Palm Springs’ time loop.
Sheila (Kaley Cuoco) stumbles across a time machine in the form of a tanning bed in the back room of a nail salon (the real triumph is that this film assumes a public business in NYC would have a bathroom for customers). She reuses the time machine to continuously go back 24 hours and relive the best date ever with Gary (Pete Davidson). However, even as a hopeless romantic myself, I can imagine that the same date with the same guy could grow old. Sheila eventually decides to toy with reality and attempts to “fix” certain elements of Gary.
The best compliment that Lehmann’s Meet Cute can be given is that it brings something new to the genre. Sure, we just had Palm Springs which also dealt with a time loop, but Meet Cute faces more than just reliving the same sequences. Even Sheila and Gary’s date has variation throughout and doesn’t feature the stereotypical repeated scene where the main character’s alarm clock goes off.
And Meet Cute isn’t afraid to deal with messy circumstances. There’s a real conflict in the morality of Sheila’s choices. Think about Joel (Jim Carey) in Eternal Sunshine; he tries to erase parts of his memory to forget the bad. Whether that was morally right or wrong is up to you, but that’s the beauty of films like that and Meet Cute. There’s an authenticity to Meet Cute that even if you can’t go back in time and change your significant other, you’ve likely wrestled with the thought (don’t try to deny it).
Give writer Noga Pnueli, who is to credit for the film’s high concept and emotional hook. The idea for the tanning bed time machine sounds straight out of Everything Everywhere All at Once, and like the Daniels’ latest film, Meet Cute goes deeper than its concept would allow in most other films.
Director Lehmann also deserves praise for the way he directed the film. I spoke with him last week about directing Davidson and Cuoco and learned that a lot of the dialogue was improvised. That makes sense when considering the two leads, but I love that they let Gary go on tangents about Blade Runner and The Terminator (two films I can see Davidson loving).
It’s also great to see Davidson, who’s become a bit one-note in his performances, where he can flex his comedic chops and dramatic side within the confines of a human character. That’s not to say Davidson isn’t a good actor — Big Time Adolescence, The King of Staten Island and Bodies Bodies Bodies would all beg to differ — it’s just refreshing to see him play a role that isn’t a stoner that peaked in high school and have him paired with a 15-year-old child that idolizes him before realizing how pathetic he is. Starting with his name and ending with his personality, Gary is such a mundane guy that gives hope to the rest of us. Great work by Davidson.
Opposite Davidson is Cuoco. I’m not entirely sure their chemistry is off the charts — perhaps by design (?) — but her character brings far more emotional weight to her character. I can’t go into specifics without spoiling specific parts of the film, but she has a lot more to handle than Davidson and does so with grace. There’s a bit of a “twist” with her character — if you can call it that — that has to do with her past. The crumbs are there from the start, but my head hurt trying to figure out the logic of it all. Time travel/time loop films have attempted to become simpler in recent years. Even still, they can cause a headache if you try to think about it too hard.
As a New Yorker, the way that you frame the city that never sleeps is important. Maybe not to anyone outside of it, but I cannot stand when you can tell a film is not in the city (looking at you, 21 Bridges). Meet Cute frames the city in a way that’s familiar to me and anyone else who walks these streets. There’s trash on the streets, people talking on the sidewalks and again, the only unrealistic part is that the nail salon would have a public restroom. It’s not that New York City is a character like Gotham was in The Batman, per se, it’s just refreshing to have a version of this city without the “I’m walkin’ here!” stereotype.
Meet Cute is the best rom-com of the year thus far (though we’ll see if Kaitlyn Dever and co. can change that next month). At the very least, it’s a fresh take on a genre that’s seen a revival of sorts this year. Lehmann gave a better pitch than anyone else ever could: Who wouldn’t want to go on a date with Pete Davidson and Kaley Cuoco (even if you are witnessing the same date over and over again)?
Meet Cute is available to stream on Peacock now.