'Plus One' Review: An Irresistibly Charming Rom-Com That You'll Want a Second Date With [Tribeca]
Thirty years ago, When Harry Met Sally posed the question: Can men and women really be friends? While it never quite provided an answer, it did prove one satisfying thing — friendship may be forever, but watching friends fall in love is timeless.
Plus One, which follows two jaded college buddies Ben and Alice (Jack Quaid and Maya Erskine) who make a pact to be each other’s plus ones during a summer of endless weddings, pays appropriate homage to its lauded predecessor, but takes that delightful push-pull dynamic that When Harry Met Sally perfected to another level. Pen15 writers Jeff Chan and Andrew Rhymer unite with Erskine, the star and co-creator of the acclaimed Hulu series, to make their feature debut with this sharp, raunchy, and altogether winning film that is poised to be the rom-com of the summer.
Erskine is a joy to watch onscreen as the gregarious and chaotic Alice, whose drunken meltdown at the wedding of her and Ben’s college friend kicks off Plus One‘s rom-com premise. Reeling from her break-up with her longterm boyfriend (who in typical bad ex fashion, dumps her for his secretary), Alice proposes to Ben that they strike up a pact: be each other’s plus ones at the dozens of weddings they’ve been invited to that summer to work as each other’s wingman. Ben, the hopeless romantic who hasn’t been able to hold down a relationship, at first balks at the idea, but finally agrees when the girl he had long been pining for rejects him.
Erskine and Quaid’s easy chemistry is paramount to Plus One‘s success, and their witty banter and genuine affection for each other drive the film as it navigates, and eventually shakes up, the traditional trappings of the rom-com. Yes, that premise is straight out of a ’90s rom-com, but Plus One does something more with the concept of “female and male friend are hot together and fall in love” — it lets Alice and Ben become fully realized characters before the concept of romance even occurs to them. And when it does, it feels completely natural. Plus One achieves this through Chan and Rhmer’s sparkling dialogue, which — like Erskine’s show Pen15 — taps into the shared anxieties and experiences of people in their 20s and 30s today. Alice and Ben feel the pressures of wedding season, and start to see the end post of their own love lives getting further and further away. This starts to wear on Ben especially, who at first glance is the prototypical sardonic white male lead that rom-coms love to feature. Lanky, self-deprecating, and hopelessly romantic, Ben at times seems like he wandered in from a Woody Allen film. But Plus One cleverly undercuts his character, presenting his flaws as glaring and his ideals about romance all the more dated.
The pressure-chamber premise of wedding season could begin to wear thin in Plus One, but it avoids keeping its characters in the rom-com bubble by giving both Alice and Ben full lives outside of their wedding misadventures. Ben is a product of divorce, which he blames for his hopelessly lofty ideas about romance — his father Chuck (a hilariously obtuse Ed Begley Jr.) is about to embark on his third marriage with a younger woman. Meanwhile, Alice is a child of an unhappy marriage, which we get a full, vibrant glimpse of when the duo attend Alice’s sister’s wedding. The cultural import that Plus One places on Alice’s Japanese-American heritage is refreshing as well, and the peek into the controlled chaos of a an Asian-American wedding was delightfully familiar.
Though it takes its pains to frequently subvert the rom-com, Plus One is one of those rare indies that doesn’t hate the genre it operates within. It sincerely plays out the budding romance between Alice and Ben, letting Erskine and Quaid’s steamy chemistry speak for itself. Where most indie rom-coms try to undercut these pivotal elements, Plus One lets you fall in love with the characters as they fall in love.
Plus One wears its When Harry Met Sally influences on its sleeve — from the rapid-fire dialogue, to the multiple interludes of one-off characters giving hilariously bad wedding speeches (all based off of real speeches the writers’ heard), to the premise of friends falling in love. But Plus One isn’t a knock-off of one of the greatest rom-coms ever, it’s a deserving successor.
/Film Rating: 8 out of 10
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