Here we go, another one of Netflix reported 80 planned film releases for 2018. Hopefully they didn’t go for quantity over quality.
Synopsis: Noah spends the perfect first night with Avery, the girl of his dreams, but gets relegated to the friend zone. He spends the next three years wondering what went wrong – until he gets the unexpected chance to travel back in time and alter that night – and his fate – over and over again. (IMDB)
Starring: Adam Devine, Alexandra Daddario and Shelley Hennig
Writer: John Whittington
Director: Ari Sandel
Running Time: 97 mins
The mere premise of this new Netflix comedy is just asking to be the discussion of controversy. It doesn’t help that within the first 20 minutes of this film it starts to feel a bit like the B-rate, millennial version of La La Land thanks to its references to jazz and Noah’s pianist profession. The story follows nice guy Noah (Devine) who after a perfect night with Avery (Daddario) is friend-zoned when she meets the Ethan (Robbie Amell), guy of her dreams, the following day. With his heart crushed, Noah stumbles upon a magical photo booth that sends him back to that fateful night giving him a second chance at a first meet. With how things have been going in the world, a film about a guy whining that a girl doesn’t like him and using time travel to manipulate her entire future to be with him borders on possessive and offensive, but it becomes so much more thanks to some stellar writing and charismatic performances.
Devine, known primarily for his Workaholics series, proves to be a formidable rom-com leading man as he mixes the essence of Jack Black and Jim Carrey to deliver a character that is hard not to root for. He tones down the vulgar, yelly comedy and turns in a performance that makes you see him as a good guy, blinded by his own infatuation. Daddario and Amell are great as the other two characters in this love triangle, although the story focuses a little less on them and more on the two best friends in the story: Max (Andrew Bachelor) and Carrie (Hennig). Both of these actors deliver phenomenal performances as they help in showing Noah the most important aspects of his life.
The reason these characters work so well is the organic writing of them into the story. They aren’t bound by a checklist of rom-com cliches, instead having situations happen to them that mimic real life. Every time Noah changes his story the present is changed, showing the positives and negatives of each new life. It is through seeing these differences that he comes to realize the life he was living was the best way it could have gone as the themes of fate and love intertwined into a twist of an ending that leaves us all with the message to seize our moment.
However, the themes in this film aren’t explored very much until the very end of the film leaving a lot of ideas left on the table. And while the story is charming and funny it does have some problems. For starters, the fact that the film is well aware of pop culture references, having Noah and Avery meet at a Halloween party dressed as Garth Elgar from Wayne’s World and Dottie Hensen from A League of Their Own respectively, but doesn’t use any references to time travel movies makes for a missed opportunity. This film’s tone is reminiscent of Big meets When Harry Met Sally or 50 First Dates meets The F Word while it uses the time travel trope created by Groundhog Day and seen most recently in surprise hit Happy Death Day. How is it that a film that radiates so much similarity to popular films does not make any reference to them whatsoever.
The biggest issue arises when you think a little too hard about how the film’s premise plays out. Luckily this flaw is remedied through its execution in showing Noah that there’s more to someone beyond one night. Perhaps happiness isn’t obtained through molding someone else into what you want them to be, but finding happiness within yourself and having that person find you.
Overall, When We First Met is a surprisingly entertaining rom-com that uses the overly done Groundhog Day trope in a slightly different way. While the story misses some opportunities and ends on some underdeveloped themes, its performances, engaging comedic story, lack of cliches and feel-good message make this film about rewriting time worth watching in the end. It is a relatable film thanks to some great writing and organic characters that seize the day.
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