Netflix’s “WHEN WE FIRST MET” brings charm back to meet-cute movies

When We First Met is a lot better at the “rom” than it is the “com.” Though it borrows heavily from Groundhog’s Day, Back to the Future, Just Friends, and even About Time, this time travel war on the friend zone has a handful of good ideas of its own.

Directed by Ari Sandel and released as a Netflix original film. When We First Met is set in the years between 2014 and 2017. It stars Adam DeVine as Noah, a mild-mannered piano bar entertainer. Who meets the girl of his dreams (Avery, played by Alexandra Daddario) at a Halloween party. That only to be “friend zoned” almost immediately.

Years later, in 2017, Noah is heartbroken to find Avery hopelessly engaged to the man of her dreams (Ethan, played by Robbie Amell). A despondent Noah haphazardly stumbles upon a method of time-travel directly linked to his first meeting. That with Avery and attempts to make things different, once and for all.

When We First Met asks a simple question: can otherwise well-meaning dudes avoid the friend zone? Noah indeed attempts to reshape his personality in myriad ways, heartening advice from his best friend. (Max, played by Andrew Bachelor or “King Bach”). And Avery’s best friend (Carrie, played by Shelley Hennig). They each give him ideas on how to woo Avery from the magnetic clutches of Ethan. And the film goes back and forth between the past and present. Hence the similarities to About Time, a far more interesting film ultimately.

You’d think the film’s problems would mostly stem from its message. Watching a “nice guy” go to extraordinarily mean-spirited and tone-deaf methods. That to capitalize on a woman portrayed with little agency does become a chore. But at least the film manages to avoid some predictable paths. Instead, most of the problems in When We First Met stem from its lack of entertaining comedy. It’s certainly alarming to realize that its only real laughs come from slapstick loaded. That with the catharsis of seeing Noah’s creepy ways getting upended.

Part of the problem does lie in DeVine himself. Who is relied on too heavily by the script and is present in essentially every scene.

It’s a shame because his goofy charm is endearing enough for a role like this. But the jokes are overly contingent on his specific brand of comedic timing. And there aren’t enough characters in the movie for him to jab with in the first place. It’s especially odd to see former Vine star King Bach. That in such a straightforward role instead of providing some much-needed comic relief to take the pressure off DeVine. Daddario is in many scenes, of course. But her character is far too reactionary to leave much of an impression (same goes for Amell).

Once you get past the movie’s first and second act. Which amounts to a handful of obvious joke-filled set pieces the audience. That will see coming too soon to care about. You do end up with a solid 40 minutes or so of something resembling a heart. This is a movie about what it means to be “right” for another person. And to the film’s credit, none of its “back to the future” scenarios. That miss a poignant opportunity to teach Noah (and many men watching this) something useful. And informing a genuinely sweet ending that deserves a better movie.

For a little bit there, it seemed as though the romantic comedy was a dying breed. Many of the films that Matthew McConaughey did before he revitalized his career served as some of the many obituaries for the genre. But as we look at the cinematic offerings of yesteryear. That with titles such as THE BIG SICK and FITS AND STARTS it seems the rom-com still has some life left in it. Perhaps what was taken for death was actually an evolution.

Netflix is riding this current. Its new movie, WHEN WE FIRST MET

Releases this weekend for subscribers to stream, an it’s quite a soothing and enjoyable way to spend a date night on the couch. It may not offer the Oscar-quality storytelling as THE BIG SICK. But it gets the job done, makes you laugh and feel good about yourself.

The movie tells a familiar story: A young man named Noah (a very funny Adam Devine) finds his dreamboat in Avery (Alexandra Daddario). The two stumble into each at a Halloween party, share some good laughs and conversations. And decide to continue their fun at a bar where Noah works. Sparks fly and all seems right in the world, when all of a sudden as Noah goes in for a smooch, Avery supplies a friendly hug instead.

Boom! Friend zone.

After we timehop three years down the road, we see Noah at Avery’s engagement party. She’s to be married to Ethan (Robbie Amell), the man of her dreams whom she met the very next day after meeting Noah.

From here, Noah goes back to his bar to drown his sorrows.

After knocking back a few drinks, he walks over to the photo booth that he and Avery shared a great moment in, pops in a quarter, wishes he could do that night over and — voila! The sands of time pick back up and Noah finds himself back to that very day. And like GROUNDHOG DAY, he’s allowed to do the night over until he finds happiness.

This may seem like a tired plot device, because of all the movies out there about a magical object or device that grants some sad mope the ability to correct the course of his or her life. Maybe something like 13 GOING ON 30 and THE CHANGE-UP comes to mind. But, to much surprise, WHEN WE FIRST MET has more class than simply borrowing all its ideas from other material. Some of the twists the filmmakers employ are hilariously clever.

One such moment occurs when Noah alters his path from being a slacker type to a successful businessman. Although he had never studied the language before in his previous timeline. He surprises himself when he has the ability to speak Mandarin to a client. Most movies of this kind capitalize on the fish out of water aspect and use perplexity as tool for making audiences laugh. WHEN WE FIRST MET takes that approach, but it also pushes it further in ways you wouldn’t expect.

How the movie plays with time and its different scenarios elevates it above your average laundry-folding, background noise rom-coms. The chemistry among the actors, charming performances (most notably Shelley Hennig as Avery’s best friend Carrie) and quotable dialogue all contribute to this being a nice pick-me-up viewing experience.

INFO:

Rating: NR
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Directed By: Ari Sandel
Stars: Adam Devine, Alexandra Daddario, Shelley Hennig
Written By: John Whittington
In Theaters: Feb 9, 2018 Limited
On Disc/Streaming: Feb 9, 2018
Runtime: 97 minutes
Studio: Netflix

CRITIC REVIEWS FOR WHEN WE FIRST MET

David Ehrlich
It’ll take you roughly five minutes to realize that Noah is going about things the wrong way; it’ll take him more than 90.

Brian Tallerico
It’s like being at a crowded restaurant and eavesdropping on the same bad first date over and over and over again. You’d probably want to move tables.

Katie Walsh
The potentially problematic premise is narrowly sidestepped because the film zigs when you expect it to zag… This watered-down rom-com doesn’t fully deliver but it’s a diverting twist on the genre nonetheless.

Preston Barta
How the movie plays with time and its different scenarios elevates it above your average laundry-folding, background noise rom-coms.

Author: OKC

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