Movies have long depicted the cosmos meddling in affairs of the heart, so it’s refreshing to see a character actually meddling back. Meet Cute is a premise that could’ve yielded a minor classic–indeed, it already has: Palm Springs, Andy Samberg’s sardonic time-loop rom-com, is smarter, sillier, and more infectiously audacious than this movie could ever be. That’s a shame, as Cute’s wrongheaded approach squanders the chemistry and razor-sharp performances of its lead couple.
The plot doesn’t deviate much from its killer logline: Shelia (Kaley Cuoco) is a neurotic young woman who spots Gary (Pete Davidson) across a dimly-lit bar. As with many dating scenarios, Shelia bungles the first impression. She fumbles over her words, makes awkward jokes, and tries too hard to win Gary. Their first encounter is intriguing, but imperfect.
Thankfully, Shelia has stumbled onto a quantum miracle. A nearby nail salon has a supernatural tanning bed that allows its occupant to travel backward in time. As always, there are a few catches: The traveler can travel to any point in the past, but they only have 24 hours to tinker with the continuum. That means Shelia can go back and relive her meet with Gary, using each loop to grow savvier about what makes him tick. Eventually, they’ll have the perfect first date.
Or so she thinks. Turns out, Shelia gets to experience the course of an entire toxic relationship within the confines of this 24-hour loop. Gary’s quirks and hangups slowly emerge on their one night, and eventually even his endearing traits begin to peck at her nerves. Ultimately, Shelia resolves to fix Gary by traveling into his past, but this only leads to bigger trouble.
Just on spec, that probably seems like a decent, low-fuss date flick. And for brief flashes, it kinda is. Cuoco and Davidson strike a few sparks, even with a weak script. Davidson, whose wiseass comedy is an acquired taste, has some potential as a hangdog leading man. Give these two better material, and I’m down to give them another chance.
Unfortunately, neither actor is responsible for the script, which is the most underwhelming part of Meet Cute. The biggest problem within it is the Shelia character. She’s irritating, manipulative, and self-absorbed–bad traits for a rom-com protagonist. Even worse, her constant need to be a fixer is toxic and malignant, and it works against Gary and Shelia as a couple. By the end, I was rooting for both characters to go their separate ways and move on.
That’s a difficult thing for me to type, because I’m a sap who loves date movies. That’s especially true when said movie takes place in a romantic city: New York City, with its skyline lights shimmering off the Hudson, is practically its own supporting character in the story. When Gary and Shelia stroll through a humid Manhattan evening, I wanted to like this movie.
Alas, ’twas not to be. Meet Cute‘s climactic scenes fall especially flat, punctuating the film with a pronounced blah. As the final credits rolled, I literally gave a shrug. A better movie is locked in the basement of this one; you can occasionally hear it screaming to get out. Seriously, go check out Palm Springs. It’s nihilistic rom-com, done right.
89 min. TV-MA. Peacock.